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Supreme Court of the United States

Big Win! Court Rules Photographer Chelsey Nelson Has the Right to Choose Which Events to Celebrate

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
August 14, 2020

Our country is big enough for a wide variety of beliefs and viewpoints to coexist peacefully. 

Thankfully, today a federal district court recognized this when it ruled in favor of Alliance Defending Freedom client Chelsey Nelson, a creative professional in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Chelsey is a wedding photographer and blogger. She is also a Christian and tries to live her life in a way that honors God, including through her business. That means Chelsey can only use her artistic talents to participate in and celebrate weddings that are consistent with her religious beliefs—that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Chelsey respects and serves everyone, but she cannot celebrate every event or promote every message that is asked of her. For Chelsey, it’s all about what she is asked to create, not who asks her to create.

But city officials in Louisville have failed to understand that distinction.

Louisville officials interpret a local ordinance to force Chelsey to photograph and blog celebratory messages about same-sex weddings because she does so for weddings between one man and one woman. If Chelsey declines, she faces substantial penalties: damages, court orders, and required compliance reports. Under the law, Chelsey is not even allowed to explain to clients and potential clients how her religious beliefs on marriage affect the artistic choices she makes. She can’t even include those beliefs on her website or social media sites!

This interpretation of the law is a violation of Chelsey’s constitutionally protected free speech and freedom of religion. And it should concern everyone who values the rights we have in America to live and work consistently with our beliefs free from government punishment. 

If the government can tell us what to think, what to do, and what to say, then we do not live in a free America. 

That’s ultimately why Chelsey filed this lawsuit. It’s not only her freedom at stake—it’s freedom for us all. 

In its ruling, the court summed it up this way: 

[U]nder our Constitution, the government can’t force [people of faith] 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. The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech. It demands both.

Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential to our country. If we want the freedom to live and work peacefully according to our beliefs, we must extend that same freedom to others—even if we disagree.

That’s what a truly free society demands. 

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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