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New York Wedding Photographer Won't Share Her Beliefs About Marriage Because Speaking Out Could Put Her in Jail

Tyler O'Neil : Jun 1, 2023  The Daily Signal

"I'd love to be able to operate my business in line with my religious convictions without the threat of government punishment, which, like you said, is very steep and severe threats and punishment: $100,000 fine, losing my business, jail time. Really scary, scary things. And ultimately, these are things that should be protected by the Constitution..." -Emilee Carpenter

(Orlando, FL) — [] Emilee Carpenter, a Christian wedding photographer, had to turn to her lawyer when asked about her religious beliefs about marriage because New York law prevents her from speaking about those beliefs in conjunction with her business. (Screengrab image: via ADF)

"So New York's law is actually so severe, I think I need to pass this over to my attorney, Kellie [Fiedorek], because it actually dictates what I am and am not able to publicly say, which is part of the scare in this law," Carpenter said when The Daily Signal asked about her views on marriage.

Carpenter and Fiedorek sat down last week with The Daily Signal at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Orlando to discuss the wedding photographer's lawsuit challenging a New York law compelling her to speak in favor of same-sex weddings.

Carpenter, who is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit challenging New York Executive Law Section 296.2(a). The law bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which New York interprets as forcing commercial photographers who photograph opposite-sex weddings to offer their artistic services for same-sex weddings. The law also bars Carpenter from publishing any notice "to the effect that ... the patronage ... of any person ... is unwelcome."

"It is a very extreme law that does compel her speech, but also prevents her from speaking freely when it comes to what her beliefs are," Fiedorek, the photographer's lawyer, told The Daily Signal. She noted that Carpenter aims "to create consistent with her faith" that marriage is "between a husband and a wife, and that's a very sacred union."

Fiedorek denied any accusation that the photographer discriminates against anyone based on sexual orientation.

"She has clients that identify as LGBT, but there's some messages—and marriage is one of them—that she can only create photographs and talk about that and promote it," Fiedorek said, if it is "consistent with what her faith teaches."

"I'd love to be able to operate my business in line with my religious convictions without the threat of government punishment," Carpenter said. She noted that if convicted of violating New York's human rights law, she could face a $100,000 fine (which she would have to pay personally), loss of her business, and even a year in jail.

"I serve all people," Carpenter added. She said her refusal to lend her creative services to celebrate same-sex weddings "isn't about the person; it's about the message, and we are arguing that somebody should be free to choose the messages that they promote."

"This is my speech, this is my artwork, and I want to be able to create freely," she said.

Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, represents other clients with similar stories, including one case at the Supreme Court.

The high court is weighing the case of Lorie Smith, a graphic artist who creates custom websites for weddings. Colorado law would force her to offer the same services to celebrate same-sex weddings, so she filed a lawsuit challenging the law. The court heard her case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, in December, and a ruling is expected soon.

Smith is challenging the same law that penalized Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who gladly sells baked goods to all but refuses to craft custom cakes to celebrate same-sex weddings. The Supreme Court vindicated Phillips in 2018, ruling that Colorado had discriminated against him on the basis of his faith, but that decision didn't resolve the free speech issue.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals has put Carpenter's case on hold, pending the Supreme Court's ruling in 303 Creative. Carpenter said she hopes the Supreme Court will strike down the Colorado law and order the 2nd Circuit to resolve her case in a similar manner. Subscribe for free to Breaking Christian News here

Click Here to Listen to the podcast or to read the lightly edited transcript.

Tyler O'Neil is managing editor of The Daily Signal and the author of "Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center."

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