A Christian photographer will not be compelled to promote same-sex weddings under Virginia state law, following a legal settlement.
In 2020, Bob Updegrove launched legal action against the US state over its ‘Virginia Values Act’, which would have forced him to photograph same-sex weddings against his will because he only offers photography to celebrate marriages between opposite sex couples. The law threatened initial fines of up to $50,000, and a further $100,000 for each additional violation.
But following the US Supreme Court’s ruling in June backing free expression, Updegrove agreed to a settlement upholding his stance, which enables him to publish a belief statement on his website explaining his services.
US-based religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is supporting Updegrove, said the photographer desires to “promote God’s design for marriage as a beautiful and sacrificial relationship that proclaims the significance of the Gospel to his clients, the wedding audience, and the public”.
the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe
Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse welcomed the settlement, saying: “Free speech is for everyone. As the Supreme Court recently affirmed in 303 Creative, the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe.
“This victory for Bob underscores how the 303 Creative decision will protect countless Americans from government censorship and coercion. The U.S. Constitution protects his freedom to express his views as he continues to serve clients of all backgrounds and beliefs.”
In 303 Creative LLC v Elenis, a Christian web designer won her Supreme Court case against a state law which requires artists to convey any message that a customer requests.
In 2016, Lorie Smith filed a pre-enforcement action against Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act in anticipation of attempts to force her to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex marriage.
In the 6-3 majority opinion earlier this year, Justice Neil Gorsuch argued that Colorado sought to force Smith “to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance”.
He said, “as this Court has long held, the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong”.
In a footnote, the ruling cited the UK Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in favour of the Ashers Baking Company.
In 2014, the family-run bakery turned down Mr Lee’s order for a same-sex marriage campaign cake. The McArthurs took the decision because the message on the cake conflicted with their Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Following a four-and-half year court battle, the Supreme Court vindicated Ashers, recognising the family’s objection was “to the message, not to the man”.
Senior judges stated: “By being required to produce the cake they were being required to express a message with which they deeply disagreed.”