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  • Nic F. Anderson

NY Judge Dismissed Woman’s Lawsuit Which Claimed Anti-Discrimination Laws Violated Her Rights

Photo of Emilee Carpenter and screenshot of her website's landing page.

A New York judge dismissed Christian photographer Emilee Carpenter’s court case against the state’s Attorney General Letitia James over non-discrimination laws on Dec. 17.

Carpenter filed the lawsuit in April after refusing to photograph LGBTQ+ couples and being faced with fines up to $100,000. The suit claims the state’s anti-discrimination laws violated her first and fourteenth amendment rights and she was forced to work “against her beliefs” or be subject to hefty fines.

“Just as the government cannot compel a lesbian baker to create a cake condemning same-sex marriage or an atheist playwright to wax positively about God, New York cannot force Emilee to convey messages she objects to,” the lawsuit said.

(Editor’s note: the full lawsuit is hyperlinked above and attached as a .PDF at the bottom of this article for your convenience)

U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. said: “The crux of Plaintiff’s claims is that her photography is the product of her unique artistic style and vision… Thus, an exemption for Plaintiff’s unique, non-fungible services would necessarily undermine, not serve, the State’s purpose, as it would ‘relegate [same-sex couples] to an inferior market’ than that enjoyed by the public at large.”

Carpenter claims that she refuses to photograph LGBTQ+ couples because it promotes a message that goes against her Christian beliefs. James took to Twitter to reinforce the decision: “In a major victory, a judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by an Elmira wedding photographer who refused to photograph same-sex marriages. My office will always fight to ensure that every New Yorker is treated equally under the law across our entire state.”

Carpenter’s website does indicate that she is highly religious; however, it does not state that she does not photograph LGBTQ+ couples. It is also unclear whether or not Carpenter’s website always included several religious passages or if it was a recent addition.

Photo of Emilee Carpenter and screenshot of one her website's pages.

Jonathan Scruggs, Senior Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, a “faith based non-profit that focuses on legal advocacy” stated in a release: “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… 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.”

Lorie Smith of Colorado challenged the state’s anti-discrimination laws after she didn’t want to make wedding websites for same-sex couples. She lost in Colorado’s U.S. circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in late June.

Alliance Defending Freedom added that the non-profit hopes “the Supreme Court will hear Lorie’s case and protect the constitutional freedoms for all Americans, including creative professionals like Lorie and Emilee.”

Geraci rebutted with the nondiscrimination laws “simply seek to guarantee that businesses purporting to serve the public truly do serve the public.”

LGBTQ+ activists and community members have supported the court’s decision.

“New York state’s laws clearly protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people against discrimination… Decisions like these are an encouraging reminder of the power of affirming legislation in making New York a more welcoming home for LGBTQ+ people,” Glennda Testone, executive director, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center said in a statement.