The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a “statement of interest” in support of Kentucky wedding photographer Chelsey Nelson, who refuses to shoot same-sex couples.
Nelson is suing the city of Louisville over an ordinance banning local businesses from discriminating against gay customers. The wedding photographer claims that she “can’t photograph anything that conflicts with my religious conviction that marriage is a covenant relationship before God between one man and one woman,” according to court records per Associated Press. She has also said that she would “decline any request” to photograph “a same-sex wedding, polygamous wedding, or an open marriage wedding.”
The DOJ’s statement of interest backs her case, asserting that the Louisville ordinance against discrimination “violates her sincerely held religious beliefs… [and] invades her First Amendment rights.”
“The Free Speech Clause prohibits the government from requiring people to engage in speech supporting or promoting someone else’s expressive event, such as a wedding ceremony,” the DOJ wrote. “Forcing a photographer, against her conscience, to express her support for a wedding that her faith opposes violates the Constitution.”
Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, also wrote in a follow-up statement, “The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing someone to speak in a manner that violates individual conscience. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to protect the right of all persons to exercise their constitutional right to speech and expression.”
Nelson hasn’t actually been asked to photograph any gay couples, but she sued the city pre-emptively. The city is asking the court to throw her case out, as the ordinance hasn’t actually affected her at all, so she has no cause to challenge it. She is being represented by an SPLC-designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a Colorado baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.