A federal district court issued a preliminary order Aug. 14 prohibiting the city of Louisville, Kentucky, from enforcing an anti-discrimination law against a Christian wedding photographer and blogger that would require her to promote same-sex weddings.
Chelsey Nelson—an entrepreneur who specializes in photographing, editing and blogging about weddings—filed suit in November in what is known as a “pre-enforcement challenge,” which allows citizens to challenge a law that threatens their rights before the government enforces it against them.
On behalf of Nelson, religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) argued that Louisville’s public accommodation law violated Nelson’s rights under the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“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,” Jonathan Scruggs, ADF senior counsel, said.
In the order, U.S. District Judge Justin R. Walker wrote that “America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to.”
“Forcing citizens to express ideas ‘contrary to their deepest convictions’ is ‘always demeaning,’” he added. “It doesn’t matter if most people agree with the expression the government compels. Free thought ‘includes both the right to speak freely’ and to say nothing at all.”
Walker also quoted the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage Obergefell decision, which says, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
“The court was right to halt enforcement of Louisville’s law against Chelsey while her case moves forward,” Scruggs said following Walker’s ruling. “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.”
While the court did not grant Louisville’s motion to dismiss the case, Walker did write that “Nelson is substantially likely to succeed on her free speech claim.”
Above: Chelsey Nelson photographing a client’s wedding.
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom