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Free Speech Victory For Christian Photographer

by | Wed, Nov 8 2023

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The US state of Virginia has settled a lawsuit with a Christian wedding photographer who declined to use his business for same-sex marriage celebrations. Bob Updegrove sued state officials over a law that forced him to endorse same-sex marriage within his photography business.

The Christian Post reports his lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced the state had consented to a settlement based on this year’s landmark US Supreme Court ruling that website designer Lorie Smith of 303 Creative cannot be compelled by Colorado state law to create websites for same-sex weddings that violated her religious views.

ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse said: “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 US Constitution protects his freedom to express his views as he continues to serve clients of all backgrounds and beliefs.”

The Virginia Values Act (VVA) was signed off by then Democrat Governor Ralph Northam, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to state civil rights protections. It became the subject of multiple lawsuits, with church and ministry groups arguing that the legislation lacked sufficient religious protections.

Mr. Updegrove filed a “pre-enforcement” challenge against the VVA, arguing that it would force him to go against his belief that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman. The lawsuit argued that the VVA aims to “regulate Bob’s view that marriage should be between a man and a woman — out of existence.” Mr Updegrove claimed that under the law, he would be unable to publicly state anywhere on his website or business social media that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, ultimately violating his right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment.

A district court ruled in March 2021 that while the case “creates ‘the odour of a case or controversy’ … the scent is not strong enough” for the court to rule in its favour, forcing Mr. Updegrove to appeal. The US Supreme Court’s 303 Creative decision and the election of a Republican Governor and Attorney General in Virginia then came into play.  As a result, the state agreed to settle to “avoid further costs and expenses of litigation,” although no further details on the settlement have been released.

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom