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A U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction that stops the enforcement of a Louisville law that forced a wedding photographer and blogger to participate in same-sex weddings against her conscience. 

The photographer, Chelsey Nelson, owns a studio that specializes in photographing, editing and blogging about weddings. Nelson is a Christian and believes she can only use her artistic talents on wedding assignments that are consistent with her religious beliefs.  

Nelson sued the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government in 2019, claiming a law that requires her to photograph same-sex weddings against her conscience establishes government-compelled speech, which violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Alliance Defending Freedom represented her.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Justin R. Walker wrote, “The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech…. Forcing citizens to express ideas ‘contrary to their deepest convictions’ is ‘always demeaning.’ It doesn’t matter if most people agree with the expression the government compels. Free thought ‘includes both the right to speak freely’ and to say nothing at all.” 

“Photography is art and art is speech. The government can’t compel speech when it violates the speaker’s religious or political principles,” he wrote. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) previously filed a Statement of Interest in federal court in defense of Nelson’s case. The DOJ said that requiring a photographer to express support for a wedding that her faith opposes violates the Constitution. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government cannot require people to engage in speech that promotes or supports another person’s “expressive event” and weddings, the brief explains, are “expressive events” under the Supreme Court’s Free Speech cases. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “No person should ever be forced to speak a message prescribed by the government. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak and the right not to speak.”

Author: Liberty Counsel