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Court halts city's efforts to force KY photographer, blogger to promote same-sex weddings

Order explains ‘America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to.’

Friday, Aug 14, 2020
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A federal district court issued an order Friday that halts enforcement of a Louisville law against a photographer and blogger while her artistic freedom lawsuit moves forward in court. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Chelsey Nelson—an entrepreneur who specializes in photographing, editing, and blogging about weddings—in a legal challenge to a city law that forces her 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 court also denied the city’s request to throw out the lawsuit.

The Louisville law also forbids Nelson and her studio, Chelsey Nelson Photography, from publicly explaining on her studio’s own website or social media sites the religious reasons why she only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman. Louisville wrongly considers such “communications” as indicating that services will be denied because of sexual orientation. The court’s order halts enforcement of that part of the law against Nelson as well.

“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.”

“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 the U.S. District Court 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.”

In February, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest with the court in support of Nelson and her artistic freedom.

The lawsuit argues 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 Louisville Metro Ordinance § 92.05, a public accommodation law that threatens Nelson with unspecified damages, compliance reports, and court orders to force her to participate in and to create photographs and blogs praising same-sex wedding ceremonies—all because she does the same to celebrate weddings between a man and a woman.

According to an online directory mentioned in the lawsuit, 91 photographers in Louisville and 314 photographers in Kentucky will photograph same-sex weddings—many of whom express support for same-sex marriage by posting statements promoting same-sex marriage on their websites and by displaying photographs of same-sex weddings on their websites, blogs, and social media sites.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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