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Emilee Carpenter, Christian photographerEmille Carpenter

(LifeSiteNews) — A Christian wedding photographer in New York is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to learn if she will be able to operate her business in accordance with her religious convictions or if the Empire State will force her to close down.

Emilee Carpenter believes that “God created marriage to be a joyful, exclusive union between one man and one woman,” and therefore declines to photograph same-sex “weddings.” This runs afoul of New York’s so-called “human rights” law that deems such discretion discriminatory and therefore subject her to up to $100,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Represented by religious liberty non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom, Carpenter filed a federal lawsuit over the law in 2021, which two years later remains unresolved. On June 1, she spoke with The Daily Signal about the situation.

“I serve all people,” she said. “And I think the fundamental difference with that idea is that this isn’t about the person. It’s about the message. And we are arguing that somebody should be free to choose the messages that they promote. I don’t want to be censored by the government. This is my speech, this is my artwork, and I want to be able to create freely. And it’s honestly so much broader than me, because I would want the same freedom extended to even those who differ from me.”

The “very extreme” New York law “does compel her speech, but also prevents her from speaking freely when it comes to what her beliefs are,” explained Carpenter’s attorney, Kellie Fiedorek. “She serves everyone. She has clients and photographs clients that identify as LGBT, but there’s some messages – and marriage is one of them – that she can only create photographs and talk about that and promote it and celebrate marriage that goes consistent with what her faith teaches her as such a sacred union.”

The case was last argued last fall before the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided not to render a verdict but instead defer to the U.S. Supreme Court, which late last year took up a similar case concerning Lorie Smith, a Christian photographer in Colorado facing penalties under a similar law for refusing to photograph same-sex unions. The court’s right-leaning majority appeared sympathetic to Smith during oral arguments.

“We should be getting a decision from the court really any time now, between now and the end of June,” Fiedorek said. “And we’re hopeful the Supreme Court will affirm that artists, that all Americans have the freedom to speak freely; they can say what they believe without fear of government punishment. And we’re hopeful this broad ruling will also then help Emilee in her case, so that in New York, New York will also be required to respect her freedom of speech.”

Legal efforts to force Christian small businesses to affirm or participate in same-sex unions have been ongoing for years. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to clearly rebuke them in 2018 when it sided with Colorado baker Jack Phillips. But instead of clearly affirming that Phillips’ First Amendment rights had been violated, it ruled merely that the state civil rights commission had displayed a “clear and impermissible hostility toward” his “sincere religious beliefs.” 

As a result, Phillips remains locked in lawsuits to this day, although hope persists that the Supreme Court will deliver a more conclusive resolution for Phillips, Smith, Carpenter, and other religious entrepreneurs across America.