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VIOLATION: Wedding photographer suing state new anti-discrimination law violates First Amendment rights [#ChrisHerring #FirstAmendment] 07/03

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VIOLATION: Wedding photographer suing state new anti-discrimination law violates First Amendment rights [#ChrisHerring #FirstAmendment] 07/03

A Norfolk wedding photographer is suing Virginia, arguing a new anti-discrimination law that took effect Wednesday, July 1, 2020 violates his First Amendment rights.

The photographer, Chris Herring, believes the Virginia Values Act forces him to promote same-sex marriage against his religious beliefs.

Chris Herring “faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith, or close down,” his attorneys wrote in the suit, filed Tuesday, June 30, 2020 in federal court.

“And this was exactly what Virginia officials wanted for those who hold Chris Herring’ religious beliefs about marriage.

Legislators who passed Virginia’s law called views like Chris Herring’ ‘bigotry’ and sought to punish them with ‘unlimited punitive damages’ to remove them from the public square.”

The new law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations and access to credit.

Chris Herring, who is Christian, already serves LGBT clients for brand and adventure shoots, according to Kate Anderson, senior legal counsel with the conservative Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing him.

But he does not photograph same-sex weddings and feels that doing so would be creating art and sending a message against his beliefs.

According to Kate Anderson, Chris Herring wants to post a belief statement on his business website, but is concerned that Virginia could levy enough fines to drive him into bankruptcy.

“Because of my faith, I can only photograph consistent with who I am and what I believe. I can only photograph what celebrates God’s creation and design for the world. I won’t photograph ceremonies that contradict God’s design for marriage as something between one man and one woman.”
– Chris Herring

The attorneys say in court documents the language of the law would force the photographer “to create and convey photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings because he does so for weddings between a man and a woman.”

It is unclear whether that is how the law will be enforced.

The language says that no one can publish any communication or advertisement to the effect that services of such place would be denied to an individual based on race, sexual orientation or a host of other factors.

“The issue is how laws like this have been applied,” Anderson said, citing a case out of Arizona where a calligrapher challenged a city ordinance.

In that case, the Arizona Supreme Court ultimately ruled that businesses cannot be compelled to write messages they oppose.

Kate Anderson noted in that and a similar case in Minnesota, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring “filed briefs supporting the government compelling artists to speak messages that violate their core convictions. So there’s no doubt that’s how (he) will interpret this law.”

The attorney general, who is not related to the plaintiff, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said in an email Wednesday that his office is reviewing the complaint and will respond in court.

“Attorney General Herring believes that every Virginian has the right to be safe and free from discrimination no matter what they look like, where they come from, or who they love. LGBT Virginians are finally protected from housing and employment discrimination under Virginia law and Attorney General Herring looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”
– Charlotte Gomer

The lawsuit echoes another that came out of Colorado a few years ago — which the Alliance Defending Freedom also helped argue.

In that case, a baker had refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple based on his religious beliefs.

It went to the U.S. Supreme Court and in 2018, justices ruled there was improper religious bias by some Colorado officials against the baker.

However, the decision was narrow and left open whether a business owner’s beliefs can justify refusing services to people in the LGBT community.

Last year, the court declined to take on a similar case that might have provided clarity on the issue.

Filed the day before the law went into effect, the freedom alliance said the Norfolk case is what is known as a “pre-enforcement challenge,” allowing citizens to challenge a law before it’s enforced against them.

According to court documents, Chris Herring started his company in 2017 and operates mostly in Norfolk and Chesapeake.

After initially doing only adventure photography, he expanded to weddings aiming to promote “God’s design for marriage which reflects Jesus’ sacrificial relationship to His Church.”

In a news release from the alliance according to Chris Herring, “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. … 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.”
– Chris Herring

Christian Photographer Sues to Stop Virginia from Fining Him for Sharing His Marriage Beliefs
CBN News

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