DOJ Defends Photographer on Free Speech Claim

Feb 28, 2020

LOUISVILLE, KY – The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Statement of Interest in federal court in Kentucky, in defense of a photographer’s claim that a Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government law, which requires the photographer to photograph same-sex weddings in violation of her religious beliefs, is unconstitutional.

The photographer, Chelsey Nelson, brought suit against the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government in 2019, claiming a law requiring her to photograph same-sex weddings against her conscience establishes government-compelled speech, which violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

The Department of Justice says requiring a photographer to express support for a wedding that her faith opposes violates the Constitution, and Nelson will likely succeed on her Free Speech claim. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government cannot require people to engage in speech that promotes or supports another person’s “expressive event” and weddings, the brief explains, are “expressive events” under the Supreme Court’s Free Speech cases.

“The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing someone to speak in a manner that violates individual conscience,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to protect the right of all persons to exercise their constitutional right to speech and expression.”

In 2018, the Department of Justice announced a new Religious Liberty Task Force to ensure compliance with a 2017 Religious Liberty Memorandum and to facilitate interagency coordination regarding religious liberty policy and litigation, for the purpose of protecting and promoting religious liberty.

“It is refreshing to see the Department of Justice defend the right to free speech. No person should ever be forced to speak a message prescribed by the government. The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak and the right not to speak,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics. Liberty Counsel provides broadcast quality TV interviews via Hi-Def Skype and LTN at no cost.