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Lawsuit challenges Louisville law forcing photographer to photograph, write in favor of same-sex weddings

Related Case: Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Kentucky entrepreneur who specializes in photographing, editing, and blogging about weddings filed suit in federal court Tuesday to challenge 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 Louisville law also forbids Chelsey Nelson and her studio, Chelsey Nelson Photography, 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. Louisville considers such “communications” as indicating that services will be denied or that someone’s patronage would be “objectionable, unwelcome, unacceptable, or undesirable” because of sexual orientation.

“Artists shouldn’t be censored, fined, or forced out of business simply for disagreeing with the government’s preferred views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson. “The government must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what art they can and can’t create. No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose or to speak messages they disagree with. On countless other topics, photographers and other artists can freely choose the stories they tell. Chelsey simply asks for the same freedom.”

The lawsuit is known in legal circles as a “pre-enforcement challenge,” which allows citizens to challenge a law that threatens their rights before the government enforces it against them. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of artists and filmmakers who brought similar pre-enforcement challenges against laws like Louisville’s. ADF attorneys are asking the court to halt enforcement of the law against Nelson and her business while her lawsuit proceeds.

“Every American, including photographers and writers, should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Chelsey serves all people. But Louisville is trying to compel Chelsey’s speech, force her participation in ceremonies she objects to, and eliminate her editorial control over her photographs and blog. It’s unlawful to coerce an artist to create messages against her will and intimidate her into silence just because the city disagrees with her beliefs.”

The complaint in Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, which ADF attorneys filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, Louisville Division, explains how the city 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.

The complaint indicates that an online directory lists 91 photographers in Louisville and 314 photographers in Kentucky who 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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