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VA Photographer Appeals Decision Allowing State to Censor / Control Work

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed an appeal Wednesday of a federal district court’s decision to dismiss a Virginia photographer’s lawsuit against state officials. The lawsuit challenges a state law, enacted July 1, 2020, that forces Bob Updegrove to use his artistic talents to photograph same-sex weddings if he photographs weddings between one man and one woman.

On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, ADF attorneys will argue that the district court should not have dismissed the suit because Updegrove faces real violations of his foundational rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses.

“Artists should be free to choose the messages they promote,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives Jonathan Scruggs, who argued before the district court on behalf of Updegrove. “But because of the state’s interpretation of its law, photographers like Bob face an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against their faith, or close down. Bob and other artists deserve to have clarity on how this law affects their business. Free speech is too important, and the First Amendment protects everyone, no matter what side of an issue a person lands on.”

The law also forbids Updegrove from publicly explaining on his studio’s own website the religious reasons why he only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. Virginia considers such communications “discriminatory.” The law threatens initial fines of up to $50,000 and then $100,000 per additional violation, along with court orders that could force Updegrove to photograph events against his conscience if he wants to stay in business.

The lawsuit, Updegrove v. Herring, challenges Va. Code § 2.2-3904(B).

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