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Alliance Defending Freedom + 21 conservative states unite to defend photographer's religious liberty

Twenty-one states are among the friend-of-the-court briefs filed Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in support of Chelsey Nelson, a Louisville-based

photographer and blogger who successfully challenged a city law that required her to create photographs and write blogs expressing a view of marriage that contradicted her beliefs.


The Louisville, Kentucky, law would force Ms. Nelson, a Louisville-based photographer and blogger, to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex wedding ceremonies if she photographs and blogs about weddings between one man and one woman. The law also forbids her and her studio from publicly explaining to clients and potential clients through her studio’s own website or social media sites the religious reasons why she only celebrates wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman.


Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Nelson who serves clients regardless of their backgrounds while specializing in photographing, editing, and blogging about weddings. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, to stop the city of Louisville from threatening Nelson and violating her First Amendment rights by forcing her to create messages that go against her faith.


“Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to say something they don’t believe,” said ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart. “We urge the 6th Circuit to uphold the district court’s ruling that found the city of Louisville violated Chelsey’s First Amendment rights. Chelsey, and creative professionals we represent in other cases, have suffered real harm from public accommodation laws trampling their freedom of speech. Every American should be free to speak and work according to their deeply held beliefs.”


In August 2022, a federal district court ruled Nelson is free to use her creative talents to speak messages that align with her religious beliefs about marriage. As the district court recognized, the case is similar to another ADF case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court—303 Creative v. Elenis—involving Colorado graphic artist and website designer Lorie Smith. The city of Louisville appealed the district court’s ruling, sending this case to the 6th Circuit.


“Forcing Nelson to create custom speech for a same-sex wedding when she objects to the message that speech conveys is compelled speech, which violates the Free Speech Clause. And forcing her to do the same in violation of her sincerely held religious beliefs without the City adequately showing why it cannot accommodate her, violates Kentucky’s [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” the brief led by the state of Kentucky, and joined by 20 other states, explains.


An Oregon cake shop owner also filed a brief in support of Nelson, writing, “[C]oercing speech from small business owners will not lead to the utopian marketplace [Louisville] envision[s]. Instead, it will force creative artists to close their business doors, destroying their livelihoods and creating inferior markets for all…. Original artwork requires broad First Amendment protection to ensure artists are not forced to use their expressive gifts to communicate messages antithetical to their beliefs.”



  • Alliance Defending Freedom

  • religious liberty

  • First Amendment freedoms

  • Chelsey Nelson photographer

  • Louisville

  • 6th circuit

  • religious exemptions

  • same-sex marriage

  • Free Speech Clause

  • Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act

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2 Comments


As in all such cases, be they bakers, photographers, churches, or anybody else, we live in a diverse society and there is no reason potential customers can't go to some other competitor that will provide the services they want. There are plenty of alternatives. Why is it necessary to condemn a business for refusing to serve customers for any reason? This never should have become a legal issue, but since it is, the courts need to make it right.

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Mike M
Mike M
Mar 03, 2023

Filthy queer perverts aren't satisfied with just being filthy queer perverts. They want to force anyone and everyone in the world to accept and glorify their perversions. I have news for them. Some of us would rather die than honor and glorify what God Almighty calls sin and perversion. And nothing you can say or do will force us to do it either.

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