Bob Updegrove is owner of Bob Updegrove Photography in Leesburg.

Edward Steichen, a historic American photographer, said, “Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies . . . the wealth and confusion man has created.” In other words, good photography tells a story. And because humans enjoy hearing stories, it’s no wonder we’re drawn to images that portray our world.

Sometimes, a photograph can communicate so much that it brings us to tears. A Polaroid of you and your sibling running along the beach when you were young, a candid photo of you and your spouse on your wedding day sharing your first kiss as a married couple. We can all remember a photograph that transports us to a particular place in time and reminds us of how much fun we had or how deeply we miss someone.

Steichen also said that “a portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Being a photographer, you’re one part technician and two parts artist, fusing your technical skill with your artistic vision to create something that speaks to your audience. It is so much more than clicking a button, and the product is so much more than ink on a piece of paper. And whether it’s profound or glib, funny or tragic, we tell stories that we think are worth sharing with others.

Like any other artist, I want to create photography that I believe in. Yet I now find myself in court fighting for the freedom to choose the messages I promote.

Virginia legislators have decided that artists can no longer choose the content of their creations if they refuse to promote the state’s preferred views on certain subjects. And my state has targeted people of faith more than anyone else.

As a Christian, I believe that God calls His disciples to honor Him with the work of our hands and to communicate the truth in everything that we create. In my career, I’ve created photography for all kinds of people and businesses to promote the same values and causes that I believe in. And for the past three decades, I’ve shot several hundred weddings. I believe that marriage is a beautiful, countercultural statement in today’s world. More important, I believe that marriage is meant to be a unique and sacrificial relationship between one man and one woman that points people to Jesus Christ’s sacrificial covenant with the church.

But in Virginia, I cannot create photography consistent with my beliefs. In fact, Virginia threatens me with lawsuits, investigations and tens of thousands of dollars in fines, court costs and attorneys’ fees that could bankrupt me if I try to bring my beliefs into my business and let my faith determine what I photograph. Virginia is trying to force me to choose between my beliefs and my livelihood.

But like any artist, I can’t use my photography to celebrate anything that violates my core convictions. And under the First Amendment, that is my right. Photography is protected speech, whether it depicts weddings or political protests.

That’s why I had to take a stand for my freedom. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, I filed suit to vindicate my right to free speech and to freely exercise my religion. There are artists who share my beliefs, and there are artists who don’t. But we all have things we cannot say, cannot promote and cannot use our artistic talents to celebrate without violating our deepest values. If the government can tell me what I have to say, it can do the same to any artist.

That’s why I filed my lawsuit. It is dangerous to let the government pick and choose what an artist can say or believe. We are all better off when we can freely transact with one another based on choice, not coercion. How else can we peacefully coexist? I support others’ right to freely express themselves according to their beliefs. I only ask for the same freedom.

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