Justice Dept intervenes to defend Christian wedding photographer’s religious freedom
February 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is stepping in on behalf of a Christian wedding photographer who is suing the city of Louisville, Kentucky over an ordinance that forces her to lend her services to same-sex “wedding” ceremonies.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Chelsey Nelson, who owns a photography studio in Louisville, in her lawsuit against the city’s Fairness Ordinance, which states that businesses cannot deny a customer “full and equal” enjoyment of goods, services, privileges, advantages, or public accommodations on the basis of various attributes, including sexual orientation. It also forbids businesses from publishing communications suggesting such “discrimination.”
According to ADF, this means that Nelson not only must photograph same-sex “weddings,” but cannot publicly explain why she wants to photograph only monogamous male-female unions.
On Thursday, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division filed a Statement of Interest in the case siding with Nelson, contending that she is likely to prevail on the merits because “weddings are sacred rites in the religious realm and profoundly symbolic ceremonies in the secular one,” thereby qualifying as “expressive activities” for the purposes of free speech claims.
“The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing someone to speak in a manner that violates individual conscience,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband explained in a press release. “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 and ADF’s suit further argues that the Fairness Ordinance is hardly necessary to help gay customers find willing photographers, as an online directory lists lists 91 other photographers in Louisville and 314 photographers statewide who advertise their willingness to do so.
Nelson’s challenge is a pre-emptive measure against an ordinance the city has not yet attempted to enforce, filed before it harms religious businesses as similar mandates have across the United States.
“I’m careful to photograph and blog about each of these solemn ceremonies in a way that reflects my views of marriage,” which “means I wouldn’t be the best person to photograph every wedding,” Nelson has previously explained, noting that she also declines to work at heterosexual weddings with trivial themes such as Halloween. “My highest aim in life is to honor God, and that informs everything I do, business included.”