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Court dismisses Christian photographer's case challenging New York laws that would require her to service gay weddings

In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

In a blow to religious liberty, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed a case brought by a Christian photographer who sought to challenge state laws that would prohibit her from refusing to provide her services at homosexual weddings.

Emilee Carpenter had lodged the suit against New York attorney general and two other officials.

"If Emilee ... speaks consistent with her faith, New York officials can force her business and her personally to pay limitless damages and a $100,000 fine, require her to create artwork against her beliefs via court order, revoke her business license, and lock her in jail for up to a year," Carpenter's suit claims.

The suit, which was filed in April, notes that Carpenter had received at least seven requests to work at same-sex weddings over the prior year, but that she had not responded to them.

Part of the court's decision states that "the Court concludes that New York has a compelling interest in ensuring that individuals, without regard to sexual orientation, have equal access to publicly available goods and services, and that the Accommodation clause is narrowly tailored, as applied to Plaintiff, to serve that interest. As a result, even if the Accommodation clause compels speech or expressive association in a manner that implicates Plaintiff’s free-speech and free-association interests, the provision survives strict scrutiny."

Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that is frequently at the forefront of the battle for religious liberty, said that ADF attorneys representing Carpenter would request the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to review the decision.

"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,” ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs said in a statement.

But Attorney General Letitia James hailed the court's move in a statement.

“This court decision is a huge victory in our pursuit to ensure that every New Yorker has equal access and equal protections under the law,” James said. "The LGBTQ+ community is an integral part of New York, and no New Yorker should be excluded or turned away from a business or denied a service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Love is love, which is why my office will always fight to ensure that all New Yorkers are treated equally under the law."

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