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After Supreme Court's landmark free speech ruling, photographers in KY, NY seek to also create freely

ADF attorneys representing Chelsey Nelson, Emilee Carpenter ask federal courts of appeal to uphold First Amendment rights of all artists

Monday, Jul 17, 2023

CINCINNATI and NEW YORK – Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis that upheld free speech for all, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are asking two federal courts of appeal to affirm the First Amendment rights of two photographers and bloggers they represent in separate cases.

In the first case, Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, ADF attorneys filed a supplemental brief Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit asking it to affirm a lower court order that blocked a Louisville law from forcing photographer and blogger Chelsey Nelson to communicate messages that contradict her beliefs. In the second case, Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James, ADF attorneys filed a supplemental letter brief Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit asking it to allow Emilee Carpenter, a New York photographer and blogger, to create messages consistent with her faith.

“Free speech is for everyone. As the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in 303 Creative, the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe,” said ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart. “That ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws like Louisville’s can remain firmly in place, but the government cannot misuse those laws to compel speech. The U.S. Constitution ensures Lorie Smith, Chelsey Nelson, Emilee Carpenter—and indeed, every American—can speak consistent with her convictions. Now we urge the 6th Circuit and 2nd Circuit to uphold this freedom and follow Supreme Court precedent so that Chelsey and Emilee can speak freely without being threatened by the government with steep fines and penalties.”

Nelson and Carpenter serve everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT. They always determine whether to take on a new project based on the message requested and never the person requesting.

ADF attorneys filed suit on Nelson’s behalf to stop the city of Louisville from threatening her and violating her First Amendment rights by forcing her to create messages about marriage that she does not believe. In August 2022, a federal district court upheld Nelson’s freedom to create photographs and write blogs that align with her religious beliefs.

In Carpenter’s case, ADF attorneys are asking the 2nd Circuit to uphold the photographer’s First Amend­ment rights and reverse a district court’s ruling that concluded the state of New York and a local district attorney can force her to create photographs and blogs inconsistent with her beliefs. New York’s laws threaten Carpenter with fines of up to $100,000, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail.

ADF attorneys explain in the supplemental brief that the Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative “leaves no doubt that Emilee Carpenter pled plausible free-speech and expressive-association claims. In fact, the decision proves that Emilee deserves injunctive relief for her free-speech claim now.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Neihart (NYE'-hart)

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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