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Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

Description:  A Louisville, Kentucky, law forces a local 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. The law also forbids her and her studio from publicly explaining to clients and potential clients through her studio’s own website or social media sites the religious reasons why she only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman.

Wednesday, Aug 31, 2022

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A federal district court ruled Tuesday that a Louisville-based photographer and blogger is free to use her creative talents to speak messages that align with her religious beliefs about marriage. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Chelsey Nelson—a photographer who serves clients regardless of their backgrounds while specializing in photographing, editing, and blogging about weddings.

Nelson challenged a city law that required her to create photographs and blogs promoting same-sex wedding ceremonies if she does so for weddings between a man and a woman. As the district court recognized, the case is similar to one now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court—303 Creative v. Elenis—involving Colorado graphic artist and website designer Lorie Smith.

“Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to say something they don’t believe,” said ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart. “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. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court issues a similar decision when it addresses the same issue in 303 Creative.”

Louisville’s law had also banned Nelson and her studio, Chelsey Nelson Photography, from publicly explaining on her studio’s own website the religious reasons why she only celebrates wedding ceremonies between a man and a woman. ADF attorneys had asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky to stop the city from threatening Nelson and violating her First Amendment rights by forcing her to create messages that go against her faith.

“[T]he Constitution does not permit governments to promote their perceptions of fairness by extinguishing or conditioning the free expression of opposing perceptions of the common good,” the court wrote in its decision. The court also explained that “[t]he Supreme Court, like Orwell, has long recognized the risk that compelled speech may ‘turn the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official, working on themes handed down from above.’”

The lawsuit, Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, argued that the Louisville law violates various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. Specifically, the lawsuit challenges a Louisville Metro Ordinance that threatened Nelson with damages, attorneys fees, compliance reports, and court orders to force her to participate in and to create photographs and blogs praising same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Bryan Neihart

Bryan Neihart serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives. Before joining ADF, Neihart clerked for judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and the Colorado Court of Appeals. He also practiced law with a litigation firm in Denver, Colorado where he primarily represented businesses, insurance companies, and hospitals in both federal and state courts. Neihart worked as a law clerk to Judge David Furman of the Colorado Court of Appeals after graduating from law school. Neihart earned his J.D. from the Sturm College of Law of the University of Denver in 2014, where he was inducted into the Order of the Coif and served as a board member on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. While attending the University of Denver, he also received a M.A. in international human rights from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Neihart obtained his B.A., summa cum laude, in French and international relations from Wheaton College (IL) in 2011. Neihart is a member of the state bars of Arizona and Colorado.


ABOUT Jonathan Scruggs

Jonathan Scruggs serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, he oversees the litigation team defending the rights of professionals and business owners to live out their faith, as well as the litigation efforts to protect equal opportunities for women in athletics. Since joining ADF in 2006, Scruggs has worked on and prevailed in a variety of cases that protect the right of people to freely express their faith in their business, at school, and in the public square. He earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School and is admitted to practice in the states of Arizona and Tennessee. Scruggs is also admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.