Federal Court Sides With Christian Photographer in Louisville Free Speech Case

Federal Court Sides With Christian Photographer in Louisville Free Speech Case

A federal district court ruled Aug. 30 in favor of a Louisville, Kentucky, photographer, Chelsey Nelson, who filed a lawsuit against the city in 2019. Nelson argued Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance violated her First Amendment rights because it forced her to photograph and promote same-sex weddings despite her Biblical beliefs that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Beaton agreed, writing, “The freedom of speech—especially for minority views—is a core premise of our democratic republic. … As prevailing sentiments and politics have changed over the years, robust constitutional protection for differing views has remained fixed.

“Although Louisville may require restaurants and hotels and stores to provide services regardless of the proprietors’ views or their customers’ legal status, the government may not force singers or writers or photographers to articulate messages they don’t support,” he added. “Because speech is categorically different under the federal Constitution, local laws must treat it differently, too. 

Nelson’s suit is 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. 

Although Beaton’s ruling does not overturn Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance, it does ensure that the city cannot enforce the law against Nelson’s business in the future.

The decision also allows Nelson to state on her website that her faith prohibits her from promoting same-sex weddings. The text of the Fairness Ordinance bans such statements.

“Free speech is for everyone,” Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart said. “No one should be forced to say something they don’t believe. We’re pleased the court agreed that the city violated Chelsey’s First Amendment rights. The court’s decision sends a clear and necessary message to every Kentuckian—and American—that each of us is free to speak and work according to our deeply held beliefs.”

Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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