Wedding photographer Bob Updegrove is appealing his case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Virginia after the Eastern District Court of Virginia dismissed his lawsuit. Updegrove is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The lawyers argue that the pro-LGBTQ Virginia Values Act threatens Updegrove’s freedom of religion by requiring him to participate in homosexual weddings or potentially face an initial fine of $50,000.
“Virginia passed a new law this last year that’s been called the Virginia Values Act. It forces Bob to create photographs celebrating same sex weddings, or to close his business down altogether. The law also prevents Bob from publicly explaining his reasons for only creating artwork consistent with his beliefs about marriage,” ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs told reporters after the ADF argued the case in the district court.
At the end of March, the court dismissed the case, arguing that Updegrove lacks standing because the law has not yet been enforced.
In the ruling, Judge Claude Hilton wrote, “Plaintiff claims to be chilled by a potential civil fine that accompanies a law that has never been enforced against Plaintiff or any other person. Aspects of this case create ‘the odor of a case or controversy,’ but the scent is not strong enough to convince this Court that a case or controversy exists.”
ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse told The Virginia Star, “The court declined to rule on our constitutional challenge and instead said that we must wait and see how the law will be enforced against artists like Bob before he can take action against the law. But we already know that Virginia intends to use the law to punish religious artists.”
Delphonse added, “Virginia’s Attorney General has even said it’s illegal for photographers and other creative professionals to only promote messages consistent with their religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and woman. If Bob operates his business consistent with his beliefs, he could face fines up to $100,000. Virginians deserve clarity about the law now, instead of waiting to see whether the court will uphold their First Amendment rights.”
Updegrove and the ADF are now waiting to see if the Fourth Circuit Court will take the case.
“Artists should be free to choose the messages they promote,” Scruggs said in a Thursday press release announcing the appeal.
Scruggs said, “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.”
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