Elmira photographer says NY anti-discrimination laws are 'punishing' her artistic freedom – Star-Gazette

An Elmira photographer who specializes in wedding photos has filed a federal lawsuit against New York state over its anti-discrimination laws.
With the assistance of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative Christian nonprofit advocacy group that defends religious freedom, Emilee Carpenter filed a suit in U.S. District Court claiming the requirement — if she photographs weddings between a man and a woman she must do likewise for same-sex couples — violates her religious beliefs and constitutional rights.
Carpenter, a 2016 graduate of Mansfield University, owns Emilee Carpenter Photography and said she’s gotten multiple requests from same-sex couples to photograph their weddings.
She fears she will be penalized for not honoring those requests by state agencies authorized to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
Those penalties can include fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Carpenter said she has not yet been threatened with any punitive action by the state.
“This is a pre-enforcement step to protect my civil liberties against unjust treatment or punishment. I’m up against the threat of fines and jail time,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been doing photography since 2012 and in 2013 I did my first wedding. More recently I’ve become aware of the laws of New York state. My hope is having rights protected for all creators, all professionals. It should go both ways.”
It names as defendants the state Attorney General’s Office and Attorney General Leticia James in her capacity as the primary enforcer of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
Also named as codefendants are the commissioner of the state Division of Human Rights and Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore.
The lawsuit asks the court to halt New York from enforcing its laws against Carpenter and her business while her legal action proceeds.
The lawsuit, Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James, was filed this past spring in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. 
The case is similar in some respects to a highly publicized situation in Colorado in 2012, when a Christian baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In that instance, the couple sued Masterpiece Bakeshop and owner Jack Phillips for discrimination, and after a long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Phillips’ favor.
“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” the Supreme Court majority wrote in that decision.
Alliance Defending Freedom believes that opinion applies to New York’s anti-discrimination laws as well.
“New York is attempting to compel Emilee to speak a message she disagrees with and not express her religious views on marriage,” ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said. “But the government cannot coerce artists to create messages against their will and intimidate them into silence just because it disagrees with their beliefs.”
The ADF website highlights a similar federal lawsuit it filed in 2016 on behalf of a Colorado web designer.
Read the full complaint filed in U.S. District Court here (story continues below complaint):
The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the suit.
However, the New York Civil Liberties Union, an affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed an amicus brief opposing the lawsuit and supporting the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
Read the full brief filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union here:
The implications of Carpenter’s arguments are far-reaching, the New York Civil Liberties Union stated in its brief.
“If the Free Speech Clause were to bar a state from applying an anti-discrimination law to the provision of wedding photography because it involves expression, then photography companies could refuse to serve interracial or interfaith couples, women, Muslims, Black people, or any other group the company’s owner objects to serving,” the brief said.
Carpenter’s religious and philosophical objections to the marriages of same-sex couples do not entitle her business to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law, the ACLU brief stated.
No court dates have been scheduled yet to hear arguments in the lawsuit, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Carpenter believes she tries to be fair to everybody but thinks the non-discrimination law isn’t fair to her and other creators.
“The state shouldn’t be able to silence or punish me for living out my convictions,”  Carpenter said. “I serve clients from all backgrounds, but the government is attempting to tell me what to do, what to say, and what to create based on its beliefs, not mine. Free speech protects everyone. Photographers and other artists should be able to choose the stories they tell.”
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