- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wedding photographer Emilee Carpenter is appealing a New York federal judge’s ruling that her attorneys say compels the evangelical Christian to create photo displays for same-sex weddings.

“This is a free speech issue. And I believe that all artists should be free to choose the messages they promote,” Ms. Carpenter, 27, told The Washington Times.

Attorneys for the public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom told the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on Wednesday that they will appeal a December ruling issued by Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr., an Obama appointee.

Ms. Carpenter had filed a preemptive challenge of the state’s public accommodation law, which requires business owners to not discriminate in providing services under penalty of a year in jail, a $100,000 and revocation of business licenses.

Judge Geraci ruled that, under the state laws, Ms. Carpenter must create photographs and blogs for same-sex couples if she also does wedding photography for heterosexual couples. He said her “unique artistic style and vision” are what a customer might want and exempting her from serving LGBT consumers on religious grounds would “relegate” those buyers “to an inferior market.”

Judge Geraci also ruled that the state could prohibit Ms. Carpenter from posting an explanation of her company’s wedding photography policies on her business website.

The judge cited the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruling against Colorado wedding website creator Lorie Smith, who had filed a similar preemptive challenge to public accommodation laws last year.

Ms. Smith, who also is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for an appeal of the 10th Circuit ruling and a decision from the high court could come as early as Friday, an attorney said.

ADF legal counsel Jake Warner said New York’s law “is particularly unique. It has what we would call a publication ban. And it outlaws Emilee from expressing any message that might make one of her customers feel unwelcome to her photography. In our view, that forbids Emilee from discussing her religious beliefs publicly on her website.”

“The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing anyone to express a message that goes against their deepest beliefs. The Supreme Court has long held this principle to be true, but the 10th circuit and now this district court in New York are trying to undermine that fundamental freedom and that’s bad for every American,” Mr. Warner said.

Ms. Carpenter said a great deal of creative work goes into her wedding photography. Along with taking the pictures, she edits each image and assembles a “story” that documents the event. She told The Times that her work involves much more than merely “documenting” a wedding, adding that she photographs 15 to 20 weddings a year.

“It’s not just about me, it’s not just about those who identify with a certain faith or religion,” she said. “It is about all speech makers and all artists. Their speech is on the line with this. And we are urging the government to uphold the First Amendment and protect my speech so that I may choose the messages that I promote without fear of government punishment.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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