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Wedding photographer wins injunction against City of Louisville

Chelsey Nelson runs a wedding photography and blogging business in Louisville. Alliance Defending Freedom photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – A federal district court ruled Aug. 30 in favor of a wedding photographer, who had sued the City of Louisville, claiming its Fairness Ordinance violated her free speech rights.

Passed in 1999, the ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, public accommodations and employment. Chelsey Nelson, owner of Chelsey Nelson Photography, sought an injunction against the law, saying it required her to create photographs and blog posts promoting same-sex wedding ceremonies, something she said would be against her convictions.

Alliance Defending Freedom has represented Nelson in her efforts.

“Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to say something they don’t believe,” said ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart in a press release. “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.”

Nelson’s services include shooting and editing wedding photographs as well as blogging about weddings and photography. While she serves clients from any background, she has expressly refused to photograph same-sex weddings.

A statement on her website reads, in part: “God’s word greatly impacts my life and business. Practically, this means I don’t photograph every wedding that comes my way. I cannot positively depict anything that demeans others, sexually objectifies others, or devalues marriage between one man and one woman. I also can’t photograph anything that conflicts with my religious conviction that marriage is a covenant relationship before God between one man and one woman (for example, I don’t photograph same-sex weddings or ceremonies celebrating an open marriage).”

Nelson had good reason to believe, the court said, that the city of Louisville could both compel her to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony as well as prohibit her from stating on her website that she refused to photograph such weddings and why.

“[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. … “The Supreme Court … 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.’”

Two years ago, a federal judge had blocked the city from enforcing the law against Nelson, allowing her to continue running her business while challenging the ordinance.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has said the city will likely appeal the decision.

“We are a city of compassion and we appreciate the many ways our LGBTQ+ family contributes to our diverse community,” Fischer said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Louisville Metro Government will continue to enforce to the fullest extent possible its ordinance prohibiting anti-discriminatory practices and will fight against discrimination in any form.”

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