Texas Unpaid Prosecutors

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

(The Center Square) – Texas joined a 14-state coalition in support of a photographer who is challenging several New York state laws that she says require her to violate her religious beliefs and limit the speech she uses on her website.

New York’s law is unconstitutional, attorneys general from 14 states argue in their amicus brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. Texas was the latest state to join the coalition led by Nebraska Attorney General Douglas J. Peterson.

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, New York photographer and blogger Emilee Carpenter filed suit in April.

Carpenter chose not to accept bookings for same-sex weddings because of her religious beliefs. Her lawsuit challenges state laws that require her to create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex weddings if she does so for weddings between one man and one woman. Violating state laws carries penalties of up to $100,000 in fines, the revocation of her business license, and up to one year in jail.

“States do not have the power to violate the U.S. Constitution. Forcing Ms. Carpenter to photograph weddings that violate her faith is a blatant intrusion on her First Amendment rights," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. "Time and time again, absurd laws like New York’s try to persecute people of faith who wish only to conduct their business in line with their sincerely held beliefs.”

New York maintains that Carpenter or any other business owner’s “policy of offering expressive services (like photography) celebrating opposite-sex weddings but not same-sex weddings” constitutes “a pattern, practice and policy of discrimination” under public-accommodation laws. Any New York business owner who has such a policy is subject to “civil fines up to fifty thousand dollars” or “one hundred thousand dollars” if the discrimination is “willful, wanton or malicious,” and possible criminal prosecution.

One of the laws she’s challenging prohibits her and her business, Emilee Carpenter, LLC, from publicly explaining on her studio’s own website or social media her religious reasons for only celebrating wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. New York forbids her from exercising her right to free speech on her own website because her testimony could make potential customers feel “unwelcome, objectionable or not accepted, desired, or solicited,” the lawsuit claims.

Carpenter argues that New York “shouldn’t be able to silence or punish me for living out my convictions. I serve clients from all backgrounds, but the government is attempting to tell me what to do, what to say, and what to create based on its beliefs, not mine. Free speech protects everyone. Photographers and other artists should be able to choose the stories they tell.”

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of filmmakers and artists, respectively, who brought similar challenges against laws like New York’s. ADF represented the filmmakers and the artists in both cases. The nonprofit legal defense organization is asking the court to halt New York from enforcing its laws against Carpenter and her business while her lawsuit proceeds.