Photographer Sues To Stop Virginia From Fining Him For Expressing Christian Marriage Beliefs On Business Website
On Tuesday, a photographer in Virginia filed suit against the Virginia Attorney General and the Director of the Virginia Division of Human Rights and Fair Housing to challenge a law that took effect Wednesday that forbids him from publicly explaining on his studio’s own website the religious reasons why he will only celebrate a wedding ceremonies between a man and a woman.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing photographer Chris Herring, explains that the state of Virginia would consider Herring offering an explanation delineating his religious beliefs “discriminatory” on the basis of sexual orientation, adding, “The new law threatens initial fines of up to $50,000 and then $100,000 per additional violation along with court orders that could force Herring to create photographs and blogs against his conscience if he wants to stay in business.”
ADF states in the lawsuit, “Like most other artists, Chris creates photographs for anyone no matter who they are; he just cannot create some content for anyone no matter who they are—whether that be content promoting pollution, pornography, or certain views about marriage. It’s this last editorial judgment, though, that Virginia finds objectionable—threatening to fine Chris into bankruptcy for not creating photographs and blog posts he objects to.”
ADF adds, “But Virginia interprets this law to force Chris to do more than serve LGBT clients (which Chris already does). Virginia instead requires Chris to promote content he disagrees with—to create and convey photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings because he does so for weddings between a man and a woman. The law even makes it illegal for Chris to hold a policy of photographing and blogging about weddings only between a man and woman or to post internet statements explaining his religious reasons for only creating this wedding content.”
ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives, stated, “Artists shouldn’t be censored, fined, or forced out of business simply for disagreeing with the government’s preferred views. Because of Virginia’s new law, Chris faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith, or close down. No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with, and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear.”
“It isn’t the state’s job to tell me what I must capture on film or publish on my website. My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, including the stories I tell through my photography. If you’re looking for someone to photograph a red-light district or promote drug tourism, I’m not your guy. Now Virginia is trying to intimidate creative professionals like me to change some of my other religious beliefs. I happily work with and serve all customers, but I can’t and won’t let the state force me to express messages that contradict my beliefs,” Herring stated.