Supreme Court may echo photographer’s free speech victory over mandatory LGBT support

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City officials in Louisville, Kentucky needed a lesson in free speech and government excesses. Fortunately, a young mother with a small business there provided it, with the help of justice.

It’s a lesson that the United States Supreme Court will hopefully reiterate to government officials nationwide in a few months.

This mom from Louisville is Chesley Nelson, an artist who started her own photography studio, Chelsey Nelson Photography. Like many other artists, Chelsey pours herself into her creations while serving her clients with excellence. She happily serves customers from all walks of life, including those who identify as LGBT, but just can’t express messages she disagrees with – whether it’s photographs demeaning others or photographs promoting political views with which she disagrees. For Chelsey, it all depends on what a photograph communicates, not who asks for it.


But a Louisville law required Chelsey to create photographs and write blog posts celebrating same-sex marriages because she celebrates marriages between a man and a woman. Running her business in accordance with her beliefs means the city could slap her with investigations, damages and court orders. It’s hard to run a business or support a growing family like that.

Masterpiece Cake owner Jack Phillips speaks to supporters after a rally at a Christian college campus in Lakewood, Colorado.

But it went beyond economics. While Chelsey developed a love for photography at a young age, her main focus is on weddings. Not only are weddings beautiful and joyful events, they signal the beginning of a deep and sacred commitment. Like so many others, Chelsey believes in God’s purpose for marriage, so she uses her role as a photographer to celebrate that idea. Louisville law tried to force her to give up her faith and promote something she doesn’t believe in — to amplify the government-sanctioned view of marriage rather than her own.

This is where this story transcends even the important topic of marriage. The government shouldn’t force an artist to say a message they don’t agree with, whether it’s about marriage or anything else. This fundamental freedom protects the LGBT graphic designer who does not want to create websites condemning same-sex marriage, the Democratic artist who does not want to create posters promoting the Republican platform, and the Muslim calligrapher who does not want to write of leaflets. promote Christianity. If the First Amendment protects them, shouldn’t it also protect Chelsey?

Armed with that common sense, Chelsey, through her lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom, challenged the Louisville law, and she recently won big. A federal district court ruled that the city violated the First Amendment by threatening to force her to violate her conscience.

As this court wrote, “The government cannot force singers, writers, or photographers to articulate messages that they do not support. Because speech is categorically different under the Federal Constitution, laws Locales should also treat it differently.” After all, “freedom of expression – especially for minority opinions – is a fundamental principle of our democratic republic”.


The court understood. The government should not be in the business of imposing its orthodoxy on its citizens and silencing those who disagree. You don’t give up your right to free speech when you choose to support your family, and Chelsey – like all Americans – should be free to express her beliefs – even if the government disagrees. with them.

But Chelsey isn’t the only wife and mother who has to give some government bureaucrats a lesson in constitutional law.


This fall, the United States Supreme Court will hear 303 Creative v. Elenis, an almost identical case involving a graphic designer named Lorie Smith. Lorie wants the same freedom as Chelsey – to create art and websites that are consistent with the core of who she is. But, like Louisville, officials in Colorado are forcing Lorie to create websites promoting ideas about marriage that violate her faith. Again, the question is whether free speech protects each of us or whether government officials can dictate what people can say and create.

Hopefully, Chelsey’s case is a “coming soon” attraction for officials across the country trying to coercively advance their agendas rather than protect the liberty of all Americans. Sometimes it takes courage for people like Chelsey and Lorie to remind officials of basic lessons like these.



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