Chelsey Nelson owns a wedding photography business in Louisville, Kentucky, and filed a federal lawsuit a few months ago to keep the city government from forcing her to close over her desire to serve only marriages between one man and one woman. That desire stems from her Christian beliefs about marriage.
However, Louisville has a nondiscrimination ordinance that forces her to use her creative expression for other types of marriages, including same-sex ones. She cannot in good conscience do that, and so turned to the courts with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to vindicate her constitutional rights.
Ms. Nelson has a new ally – the federal government. In what is called a “Statement of Interest,” the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief in her lawsuit supporting her First Amendment claims.
According to the brief, “The United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of its citizens’ rights to free expression and the free exercise of religion. The United States also has a substantial interest in the in the application of such rights in the context of the ordinance here, which shares certain features with federal public accommodations laws…”
The central question in the lawsuit is whether the government can compel a wedding photographer to photograph, provide editing service for, and blog about weddings of which she does not approve, and does not wish to photograph or to promote, according to the DOJ brief.
Nelson’s attorneys at ADF welcomed the DOJ support. In a press release, ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said, “Every American, including photographers and writers like Chelsey Nelson, should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government. We appreciate the DOJ’s support of that principle in its statement of interest filed today.”
Ms. Nelson’s lawsuit joins several similar lawsuits by Christian businesspeople dealing with local or state nondiscrimination ordinances that have been decided or are pending in the courts, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals, Telescope Media Group v. Lucero and Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, among others.
Ms. Nelson’s case is Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom