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Court dangerously applies ‘Orwellian’ logic to NY photographer, forcing her to speak contrary to her beliefs

A federal district court ruled NY can compel an artist to create photographs, blogs that violate her beliefs, applied same reasoning as 303 Creative ruling
Emilee Carpenter

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to review a lower court’s decision issued Monday. The lower court’s decision concluded that the state of New York and a local district attorney can force Carpenter to create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex marriage, in violation of her religious beliefs on marriage. Penalties for violating New York’s laws include fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail.

In its decision in Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York relied on the same unprecedented logic the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit used in its July ruling in another ADF case, 303 Creative v. Elenis. In that case, the 10th Circuit ruled that the government can compel web designer and graphic artist Lorie Smith to speak messages with which she disagrees because she creates “custom and unique” expression. Similarly, in its recent ruling, the federal district court found that New York can compel Carpenter to promote messages that violate her beliefs because her photography and blogging “is the product of her unique artistic style and vision.” The lower court also found that New York can prohibit Carpenter from even explaining on her company’s website which photographs and blogs she can create in good conscience based on her religious beliefs.

“The court’s decision continues down a dangerous path of the government compelling artists to speak messages that violate their religious beliefs—or imposing steep fines, closing their businesses, or throwing them in jail,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Artists like Emilee and Lorie Smith in Colorado are protected under the Constitution to freely live and work according to their religious beliefs. Yet the 10th Circuit’s Orwellian decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis opened the door for government officials to compel all manner of speech—forcing total compliance of state-approved speech or be treated as criminals. Emilee and Lorie happily serve all people; they just cannot promote messages which contradict their religious beliefs, including their views on marriage. We earnestly hope the Supreme Court will hear Lorie’s case and protect the constitutional freedoms for all Americans, including creative professionals like Lorie and Emilee.”

ADF attorneys representing Smith have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case after a 2–1 decision by a panel of the 10th Circuit which ruled in favor of Colorado’s coercion, prompting Chief Judge Tymkovich’s dissent in which he stated, “the majority fails to protect Ms. Smith from [Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act’s] Orwellian diktat that regulates businesses based on the subjective experience of customers.” The decision in Carpenter’s case demonstrates the urgency of ADF’s request before the Supreme Court.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.


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Jonathan Scruggs
Jonathan Scruggs
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Litigation Strategy & Center for Conscience Initiatives
Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and vice president of litigation strategy and the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom.