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Supreme Court of the United States

Can’t We Just Let Creative Professionals Create?

By Neal Hardin posted on:
December 17, 2021

Your wedding is meant to be a day of celebration. And the decision of whom you choose to photograph this special day is one of the most important decisions you will make. You’ll want to hire someone you can trust—a family member, a friend, or a professional who shares your values and whose work you appreciate and admire—someone like Virginia-based photographer Bob Updegrove.

Bob has photographed many weddings over the course of his career, but his photography work is broader than that. He also photographs content for businesses, schools, churches, conferences, families, and special events.

For Bob and millions of other Americans, weddings are sacred ceremonies. Bob believes that marriage is an institution established by God to be between one man and one woman. Bob’s beliefs inform everything he does, including the way he operates his business and the messages he chooses to speak as an artist.

But the so-called Virginia Values Act is making it impossible for business owners like Bob to operate consistently with their faith. Under this law passed by the Virginia legislature in 2020, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were added to existing nondiscrimination laws.

For wedding photographers like Bob, this law means that if he is going to take photos at weddings as a part of his business, he has to be willing to photograph and celebrate both same-sex weddings and weddings between one man and one woman. Not only that, but Bob is not even allowed to explain on his website why his religion motivates him to photograph weddings between a man and a woman. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $50,000 for the first violation and $100,000 per additional violation.

The state has essentially given Bob three options: use his creative talents to speak messages contrary to his most deeply held beliefs, pay the crippling fines and potentially be driven into bankruptcy, or give up being able to photograph weddings. Forcing Bob into this situation is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. No one should be threatened by the government with losing their business because they only want to express messages consistent with their faith.

And Bob is not alone in this fight.

Creative professionals like Emilee Carpenter, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Lorie Smith of 303 Creative, and many others are facing lawsuits, fines, or other punishment by the government for not wanting to use their artistic expression to promote messages that violate their conscience.

Is this the kind of society we want to live in? Can’t we just let creative professionals … well … create? Are we really going to say that if you’re going to make a living in a creative profession, then you have to be willing to promote only those messages the government sanctions? That runs completely contrary to our American tradition of free expression. Free speech is for everyone, not just those who agree with the government’s definition of marriage.

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Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin

Neal Hardin serves as Digital Writer for Alliance Defending Freedom

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