LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – A U.S. District Court issued an order Friday that stops the enforcement of a Louisville law against a wedding photographer and blogger as her artistic freedom lawsuit advances in court.
Chelsey Nelson, who lives in Louisville and specializes in wedding photography and blogging, is also a Christian and tries to honor God through her business. Nelson believes she can only use her artistic talents on wedding assignments that are consistent with her religious beliefs. She believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Jefferson County Metro Government said she would be in violation of a local ordinance if she were asked to photograph or blog a same-sex wedding and refused. Nelson wanted an injunction in district court so she never had to use her skills on a wedding that violated her beliefs.
Nelson filed the suit through Alliance Defending Freedom in November 2019 against Jefferson County Metro Government. Nelson interpreted the Fairness Ordinance as forcing her to photograph and blog celebratory messages about same-sex weddings since she does so for weddings between one man and one woman. If she declined, Nelson believed she would face substantial penalties such as damages, court orders, and required compliance reports.
Also, under the law, she believed she was not allowed to explain to clients and potential clients how her religious beliefs on marriage affect the artistic choices she makes. She’s also claimed she was not allowed to express those beliefs on her website or social media platforms citing that the Metro government considered the communications as indicating services will be denied because of sexual orientation. The court's order also halts enforcement of that part of the law against Nelson.
The lawsuit claimed the Fairness Ordinance violates “the United States Constitution’s First Amendment protects for speech, for association, for press, for free exercise of religion.”
The Louisville division federal court agreed, saying in the order that the Metro government’s interpretation of the law is a violation of Nelson’s constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of religion.
“Just like every American, photographers and writers like Chelsey should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued before the court on Aug. 7. “The court was right to halt enforcement of Louisville’s law against Chelsey while her case moves forward. She serves everyone. She simply cannot endorse or participate in ceremonies she objects to, and the city has no right to eliminate the editorial control she has over her own photographs and blogs.”
The ruling wasn’t a complete surprise since the United States Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in support of Nelson in February. It was a similar story on Friday with the court order.
“Just as gay and lesbian Americans ‘cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,’ neither can Americans ‘with a deep faith that requires them to do things passing legislative majorities might find unseemly or uncouth.’ ‘They are members of the community too,’” wrote U.S. District Judge Justin Walker for the Western District of Kentucky, Louisville Division, in its decision in Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. “And under our Constitution, the government can’t force them to march for, or salute in favor of, or create an artistic expression that celebrates, a marriage that their conscience doesn’t condone. America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to.”