Following a string of similar lawsuits across the country, a Christian wedding and event photographer in Virginia who wants to exclude same-sex couples as wedding clients filed a lawsuit in September 2020 claiming that the Virginia Values Act, a state law prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, violates his constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
These lawsuits present a false dichotomy between respecting religious freedom and upholding nondiscrimination values. That’s why Americans United filed an amicus brief with other civil rights and religious organizations to explain that the kind of religious exemption the photographer is requesting would unconstitutionally favor his religion by disfavoring others. The Constitution requires religious neutrality for people of all faiths and none, and neutral and generally applicable nondiscrimination laws advance that goal. We pointed out that religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws would actually harm religious freedom by allowing businesses to deny services to customers for practicing the “wrong” religion.
On March 30, 2021, the federal district court dismissed the photographer’s complaint, holding that he did not have standing because he did not show that he personally faced a threat of prosecution. The photographer appealed that ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was then put on hold due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of a case presenting related issues, 303 Creative v. Elenis. As a result of the decision in 303 Creative, the parties are now negotiating a settlement of the case.