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Freedom of conscience

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.” –Thomas Jefferson

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys are involved in numerous legal matters in defense of the freedom of citizens to live according to their faith and conscience without punishment by the government. We are available for media interviews on this important freedom and any of the related legal matters listed below. Members of the media may book an interview through our media contact page. To notify us of a potential legal matter, or if you believe you are in a situation in which your freedom of conscience or religion has been violated, visit our legal help page.

Active ADF legal matters


Creative professionals

  • Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop: The same attorney who filed an unsuccessful complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission against cake artist Jack Phillips in 2017 commenced a state lawsuit over the same custom cake request: one celebrating a gender transition from male to female.
  • 303 Creative v. Elenis: A Colorado law forces Lorie Smith and her studio, 303 Creative, to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies if she creates custom websites and graphics celebrating weddings between one man and one woman. The law also forbids her from publicly expressing the religious reasons she declines to do so, including her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and why she can’t use her artistic talents to promote a same-sex marriage.
  • Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government: A Louisville, Kentucky, law forces a photographer and blogger to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex wedding ceremonies if she photographs and blogs about weddings between one man and one woman.
  • Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James: A New York state law forces a photographer and blogger to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex wedding ceremonies if she photographs and blogs about weddings between one man and one woman.
  • Updegrove v. Herring: A Virginia law forces a photographer to use his artistic talents to promote same-sex wedding ceremonies if he photographs about weddings between one man and one woman.


  • Fox v. City of Austin: Dr. Andrew Fox, who created the chaplaincy program at the Austin Fire Department and served as the lead chaplain in a volunteer capacity for eight years, shared his religious views on his personal blog, prompting city officials to demand that he recant and apologize for the harm his blog post allegedly caused. They eventually forced Dr. Fox to turn in his uniform.
  • Christian Healthcare Centers v. Nessel: Michigan’s civil rights law, which state courts recently reinterpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity, now requires religious organizations like Christian Healthcare Centers to hire people who do not share their faith, to prescribe cross-sex hormones to facilitate efforts to alter a patient’s biological sex, and to use pronouns that do not accord with a person’s biological sex.


  • Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing: The city of East Lansing, Michigan, crafted a new ordinance to oust an organic farmer from the local farmer’s market, where he has done business since 2010, because city officials learned he believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The farmer, who runs Country Mill Farms with his family, wants to be able to sell food to all people, but the city is preventing him from doing so at the farmer’s market.
  • Tingley v. Ferguson: Brian Tingley, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Tacoma, Washington, is challenging a state law that prohibits certain private client-counselor conversations and counseling goals that the government disfavors.
  • Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore v. City of Jacksonville: A Jacksonville law requires Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore to speak against its beliefs and to silence its religious views to remain in business.

Life and Family


Closed ADF legal matters


Creative professionals

  • Elane Photography v. Willock: In 2006, Elaine Huguenin received an e-mail from a woman about photographing a “commitment ceremony” between her and her same-sex partner and asking if Elaine would be “open to helping us celebrate our day….” Elaine politely declined to use her artistic expression to communicate a message at odds with her beliefs. The woman who approached Elaine, Vanessa Willock, easily found another photographer for her ceremony—and for less money. Nevertheless, Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Two men filed a complaint with the state of Colorado after cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to use his artistic abilities to design a custom wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis: An attorney filed a complaint with the state of Colorado after cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to use his artistic abilities to design a custom cake to celebrate a gender transition from male to female.
  • Amy Lynn Photography Studio v. City of Madison: A sweeping Madison, Wisconsin, ordinance and a state law forced commissioned creative professionals to promote messages that violated their beliefs until a federal court issued an order prohibiting either law from being enforced against artists who don’t have storefronts.
  • Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: A city of Phoenix ordinance forces the two young female owners of Brush & Nib Studio—an art studio that specializes in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events—to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies. The ordinance also forbids the studio and its proprietors from publicly expressing their Christian belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or explaining why they hold to that time-honored view.
  • Telescope Media Group v. Lucero: A Minnesota law forced Carl and Angel Larsen and their company, Telescope Media Group, to use their filmmaking talents to promote same-sex marriages if they produced films that celebrate marriage between one man and one woman. Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials repeatedly stated that private businesses such as the Larsens’ violated that law, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, if they declined to create expression promoting same-sex weddings.
  • Hands On Originals v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission: The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission after Kentucky printer Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals declined to print shirts for the GLSO’s Pride Festival because he did not want to promote the message of the event.
  • Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Arlene’s Flowers v. Ingersoll: Both the state of Washington and a long-time customer have sued Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, for declining to use her artistic skills to participate in and design custom floral arrangements for the customer’s same-sex ceremony.


  • Cochran v. City of Atlanta: The city of Atlanta, Georgia, suspended its fire chief for 30 days and required him to complete a conformity program after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views complained. After an investigation found Kelvin Cochran’s beliefs did not lead him to discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway—ironically on the basis of the need to tolerate diverse views.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, acting on the complaint of a former employee of a Michigan funeral home, filed a lawsuit against a Christian-run funeral home for its sex-specific dress code, which requires employees to dress in a manner sensitive to grieving family members and friends. After informing the owner of an intention to begin dressing as a female at work in a role that frequently interacts with mourners, the employee was dismissed for refusing to comply with the dress code.


  • Schwartz v. City of New York: Dr. Dovid Schwartz, a licensed psychotherapist and member of the Chabad Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish Community in Brooklyn, is challenging the city of New York’s ordinance that prohibits certain patient-counselor conversations that the New York City Council disfavors.
  • ThinkRight Strategies v. City of Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a law that prohibits discrimination based on political beliefs. Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski challenged the city's law, concerned that the city would force them and their company, ThinkRight Strategies, to promote political messages and causes that contradict their conservative and religious principles.

Life and Family

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services abortion-pill mandate: The Obama administration implemented a mandate that forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies if the mandate’s requirements aren’t met.
  • District of Columbia abortion mandate: The District of Columbia Council is forcing pro-life organizations to pay for insurance coverage that covers elective abortions.
  • Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor v. Suzuki, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York, Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin, Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, and Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore: Laws in various jurisdictions that sought to force pro-life pregnancy care centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry.
  • Bracy v. Burwell: The Connecticut state health exchange only offered plans that include abortion coverage, and thus every plan on the exchange required an abortion surcharge mandated by Obamacare. Consequently, the Bracy family of Connecticut had two options: violate their conscience and faith by personally subsidizing the abortions of others or be penalized with steep fines.
  • Doe v. Burwell: An HIV-positive Rhode Island man lost his private health plan due to Obamacare and was forced on to the state exchange. Under Obamacare, every health insurance exchange plan in Rhode Island required individuals to directly pay a “separate payment” to cover elective abortions. The man was in critical need of health insurance coverage but did not want to compromise his pro-life beliefs.
  • Stormans v. Wiesman: A pharmacy and two pharmacists challenged regulations passed by the Washington State Pharmacy Board which mandate that pharmacies must stock and pharmacists must dispense the “morning-after” pill if requested by a customer even when other nearby pharmacies and pharmacists will fill the order.
  • New Hope Family Services v. Poole: The New York State Office of Children and Family Services threatened to force faith-based adoption provider New Hope Family Services to immediately phase out its adoption program for the nonprofit’s policy prioritizing the placement of children it serves in homes with a married mother and father.


  • Knapp v. City of Coeur d’Alene: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform same-sex ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claimed its “non-discrimination” ordinance required the Knapps to perform such ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
  • Gifford v. Erwin: Cynthia and Robert Gifford live in a barn they built on their farm and occasionally hosted weddings on the first floor and the surrounding backyard area. Cynthia served as a wedding coordinator for those events and did everything but officiate the ceremony. In 2012, Melisa McCarthy called Cynthia, inquiring about the use of the farm for her upcoming same-sex ceremony. Because of her Christian faith’s teachings on marriage, Cynthia politely made it clear to McCarthy that she and her husband don’t host and coordinate same-sex ceremonies but left open the invitation to visit the farm to consider it as a potential reception site. Instead, McCarthy and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights.
  • Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: The state of Hawaii ordered Phyllis Young to rent rooms in her own home to people even if they don’t agree to her “house rules,” including that no romantic partners share a bedroom unless they are a husband and wife. Phyllis doesn’t target same-sex couples in any way, as is demonstrated by the fact that she will happily rent a room in her personal home to an LGBT individual, and likewise, she doesn’t provide rooms to unmarried opposite-sex couples. When Hawaii said this violated the rights of a same-sex couple, Phyllis, a long-time licensed professional realtor, invoked a state real estate discrimination law that has long allowed those who rent a small number of rooms in their own home to select renters compatible with the owner’s lifestyle, religious or not. The government sued and then persuaded the Hawaii Court of Appeals to limit that law to long-term rentals only, even though the law says no such thing.

ADF International legal matters


Visit the ADF International freedom of conscience page


Notable quotes on freedom of conscience

  • “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”  – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.… Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right.”  – James Madison
  • “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”  – U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
  • “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.”  – Michelle Obama