Virginia Photographer Files Suit to “Stop State From Censoring, Controlling Artistic Work”

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Photographer Bob Updegrove
A lawsuit that 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 has been filed in federal district court. The complaint asserts that the law violates foundational rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs will give arguments in the Virginia photographer’s lawsuit against state officials.

ADF attorneys have asked the court to enter an injunction halting enforcement of the law against Updegrove while his lawsuit proceeds, and the state has moved to dismiss the case. The court will hear both motions on Friday.

“Photographers, like all other Americans, should be free to peacefully live, work, and create art that’s consistent with their deeply held beliefs—without the fear of government punishment,” said Scruggs, who will argue before the court on behalf of Updegrove. “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. Virginia has a long and important history of protecting constitutional freedoms, and this kind of government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.”

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.

ADF filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The lawsuit, Updegrove v. Herring, challenges Va. Code § 2.2-3904(B).


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.