NY Photographer Challenges State Sexual Orientation And Gender Law That Stifles Her Artistic Freedom

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 23: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City. The Governor said the state liquor authority has suspended 27 bar and restaurant alcohol licenses for violations of social distancing rules as public officials try to keep the coronavirus outbreak under control. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Emilee Carpenter is a young entrepreneur in Pine City, New York, who runs her own photography company that specializes in wedding photography. She works closely with couples from the “Yes!” of engagement to the “I do” of marriage to create photographs and write blog posts celebrating the couple’s marriage. In short, Emilee is in the celebration business.

But as a Christian, Emilee looks to her religious beliefs for guidance on what she can celebrate and what being authentic looks like, in her life and in her business.

For Emilee, this means she can’t genuinely promote certain ideas and stay true to her faith. For example, Emilee can’t create photographs demeaning people or supporting racism. And as a Christian who believes marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman, Emilee cannot promote any view of marriage that contradicts her beliefs, such as same-sex marriage.

People may or may not personally agree with all of Emilee’s views. But it is important for everyone to understand that Emilee always evaluates only the what and not the who. Put differently, Emilee serves everyone, including those in the LGBT community. She just cannot support some messages with her art for anyone.

Artists commonly exercise this same discretion. Afterall, Jay-Z isn’t known for country songs, Stan Lee didn’t paint impressionist water lilies, and Spike Lee doesn’t produce Victorian films. And other photographers in New York create artwork according to their artistic vision and moral compass all the time.

But while New York promotes some artists, it punishes those like Emilee. New York’s laws force Emilee to create photographs and blog posts celebrating same-sex weddings and publish them on her own website because she does the same for weddings between a man and a woman. New York officials incorrectly label Emilee’s artistic choices as “discrimination” to try to paper over the fact that they just disagree with Emilee’s views.

That mislabeling comes at a high price for Emilee. If she follows her convictions, New York threatens to fine her $100,000, put her in jail for up to a year, and exact other penalties that could ruin her business and force her to defy her faith.

All of this violates Emilee’s constitutional rights. As courts across the country have found, artists have the right to choose which messages they promote.

Of course, the freedom that protects Emilee doesn’t stop with her. It’s what allows Lin-Manuel Miranda to make casting decisions for Hamilton or lesbian bakers to decline creating cakes with designs criticizing same-sex marriage. That’s the thing about free speech. It’s a two-way street — except, apparently, in New York.

Emilee has decided to stand up for herself and the rights of others. She filed a federal lawsuit through her Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to challenge the unjust threat created by New York’s laws and asked the court to vindicate her First Amendment rights. Doing so will allow Emilee to operate her business while remaining true to herself. And in today’s world, that’s something we can all understand.

Bryan Neihart, legal counsel for the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends), represents Emilee Carpenter Photography in Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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