Photographer claims law violates her rights
Photographer claims law violates her rights
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Chemung County photographer who does not want to take pictures for same-sex weddings and engagements and challenged the state’s law that prohibits such discrimination.
Lawyers for the plaintiff, Emilee Carpenter, argued that New York’s public accommodation laws compel her to “violate her conscience” by taking pictures for same-sex couples.
Carpenter sought a preliminary injunction while the New York State Attorney General’s Office and Chemung County District Attorney Weedon Wetmore filed motions to dismiss the complaint.
Amicus briefs were filed by dozens of entities, including attorney generals from more than 30 states.
Carpenter’s religious beliefs “shape every aspect of her life,” including her photography, according to Geraci’s decision, which was released Monday.
Carpenter “uses her photography services to celebrate and promote her view of marriage,” Geraci wrote.
“Plaintiff will decline projects that promote or celebrate same-sex marriage, whether that be a request from a same-sex couple looking for a wedding photographer, or a staged wedding shoot for an advertisement that depicts a same-sex wedding,” according to the decision.
“She believes that accepting such assignments would, in effect, promote activities contrary to her beliefs (and) express messages contradicting her beliefs,” Geraci wrote.
Carpenter filed the complaint after learning about New York’s public accommodation laws, which she believes threatens her ability to operate her business according to her faith and restrict what she can post on her business website and social media sites and what she could say to prospective clients.
The accommodation clause of the state’s Human Rights law prohibits discriminating against anybody because of their “race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability or marital status.”
The denial clause makes it unlawful to communicate that anybody would be refused service “on account of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, disability or marital status.”
The “unwelcome clause” of the Human Rights Law prohibits communicating that anybody of a particular race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex or marital status, or having a disability is “unwelcome, objectionable or not acceptable, desired or solicited.”
“By her own admission, Plaintiff is currently refusing requests to photograph same-sex weddings, while acknowledging that New York’s public-accommodation laws prohibit her from doing so,” Geraci wrote, noting Carpenter has received seven requests for same-sex weddings, “and she has effectively declined those requests by not responding to them.”
Carpenter could face civil fines of up to $100,000 per violation. If Carpenter violates a civil order, she could be criminally prosecuted for violating the order as a misdemeanor. The criminal penalty could be up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
Carpenter’s lawyers argued that the law violates her free speech right, her right to freely exercise of her religion and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and her right to due process.
Geraci wrote 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.”
“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,” Geraci wrote.
“Plaintiff seeks to post a statement advertising the fact that she will not photograph same-sex weddings, and she wishes to make similar statements directly to prospective clients. But it is unlawful for plaintiff to discriminate on that basis, so New York may permissibly prohibit Plaintiff from advertising that unlawful activity,” Geraci wrote.
“Since the end of the Civil War, states and localities have enacted and expanded legislation to ensure that historically underserved, disfavored, or disadvantaged classes of persons have the same access to the American marketplace’s great bounty as that afforded to the public at large,” Geraci wrote.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally found that such legislative efforts serve valid, and indeed compelling, interests, including in the context of sexual orientation discrimination. At bottom, these laws simply seek to guarantee that businesses purporting to serve the public truly do serve the public,” he wrote.
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