When a few couples first approached Chris Herring about photographing their weddings, it was unknown territory.
At the time, Chris was primarily an adventure photographer. He has traveled to 48 different states and 38 different countries, often as a freelance photographer for companies in the travel industry. So learning the different customs and culture of the wedding industry was a new challenge.
But, ultimately, Chris found wedding photography to be much like his adventure photography. In both, Chris’ faith motivates how and what he photographs—and also what he cannot photograph.
While Chris photographs people of all backgrounds and beliefs, he doesn’t promote certain messages for anyone. For instance, he will not take any photographs with pornographic images or racist messages. In his adventure photography, he will not promote things like drug tourism or violence. And in his wedding photography, he cannot photograph any weddings except those between one man and one woman.
You see, as a Christian, Chris believes that God designed marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman to reflect Christ’s relationship with the Church. Because of this, he cannot use his talents to celebrate events that contradict his faith, such as same-sex weddings.
But some of Chris’s convictions could get him in serious trouble in Virginia.
That’s why, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Chris filed a lawsuit against the state, standing up for his freedom to express messages and celebrate events that are consistent with his faith.
Here’s the problem. Starting in July, if Chris offers his photography skills to celebrate weddings between one man and one woman, Virginia law also requires him to take photographs and post blogs on his own website celebrating same-sex weddings.
Not only that, but Chris cannot explain on his website his religious beliefs for not photographing same-sex weddings.
If Chris exercises his religious and artistic freedom in these ways, he faces steep penalties. In fact, he could be subject to initial fines of up to $50,000, subsequent fines up to $100,000, and unlimited attorney’s fees and damages. All together, these monetary penalties could quickly exceed a million dollars.
That’s a heavy price to pay for living out your faith.
Chris respects and willingly works with people of all beliefs and backgrounds—as he has done many times before. Chris understands that even if he disagrees with someone, he can still respect them and value their inherent worth as a human being. A pluralistic society like ours requires this type of tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion.
But Chris cannot express every message or celebrate every event through his wedding photography. To force him to do so violates his constitutional rights and pressures him to betray his core convictions.
The reason Chris is taking this stand is simple: He believes that no one should be unjustly forced to do or say something against their beliefs under threat of government punishment.
By taking this stand, Chris is defending not only his own rights, but the rights of all those who wish to live and work consistently with what they believe.
But come July, all those rights hang in the balance for Virginians.
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