- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A wedding photographer has filed a lawsuit in federal court this week to stop a new Virginia law that requires him to promote same-sex weddings on his website, saying it violates his First Amendment rights.

Chris Herring, owner of Chris Herring Photography, filed his 53-page complaint in Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday ahead of the Virginia Values Act that went into effect Wednesday.

The state law bans businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation. It also contains a publication clause that forbids individuals from publishing content that discriminates against LGBTQ people.

“Virginia interprets this law to force Chris to do more than serve LGBT clients (which Chris already does). Virginia instead requires Chris to promote content he disagrees with — to create and convey photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings because he does so for weddings between a man and a woman,” the complaint said.

Mr. Herring takes photographs of adventures, landscapes and weddings. He explains on his website that when it comes to photographing weddings, he adheres to his Christian faith, believing that marriage is between one man and one woman.

His attorneys say the new law makes it illegal for Mr. Herring to promote his religious views, arguing that the law seeks to punish “communications.”

Under the Virginia Values Act, Mr. Herring could be subjected to investigations, lawsuits and fines of more than $50,000 per violation.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction halting the state law from penalizing Mr. Herring, arguing that it runs afoul of free speech rights.”

Just as Virginia cannot force atheist newspaper editors to print op-eds promoting Christianity or LGBT artists to design church-flyers condemning same-sex marriage, Virginia cannot force Chris to convey messages he objects to,” the lawsuit reads.

Jonathan Scruggs, senior counsel at the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Mr. Herring, says a state cannot punish someone who disagrees with the government’s preferred views.

“It isn’t the state’s job to tell me what I must capture on film or publish on my website,” Mr. Herring said.

“My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, including the stories I tell through my photography,” he added.

Virginia officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

A similar lawsuit was filed against an Arizona law similar to the Virginia Values Act, which was challenged by wedding filmmakers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled in favor of the wedding vendors last year.

The filing also comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian cake artist in Colorado after he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. More recently, the Supreme Court extended part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBTQ employees in the workplace from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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