ANDERSON: Photographers Shouldn’t Be Forced To Violate Their Religious Beliefs To Stay In Business

Chelsey Nelson

Kate Anderson Alliance Defending Freedom
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Historically, if you ask most Americans, they’d probably say they believe in free speech. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is a sentiment most of us used to hear. But does this sentiment still hold today?

Just read the news. Courage and consistency are in short supply. But there are a few people still willing to stand up for everyone’s freedom to speak what they believe in.

Take Chelsey Nelson. She owns Chelsey Nelson Photography in Louisville, Kentucky, where she specializes in photographing and blogging about weddings. Chelsey loves capturing the joy of the bride and groom on their special day, encouraging them, and celebrating their marriage. With each blog she types and each photograph she takes, Chelsey declares that marriage is good.

But Louisville has a law that forces Chelsey to create photographs and write blogs celebrating same-sex weddings because she does so for weddings between a man and a woman. Louisville’s law also prohibits Chelsey from stating her religious beliefs about marriage on her studio’s website. Violators of the law risk severe punishment.

Louisville’s law presented Chelsey with three options: violate the law, forsake her religious beliefs that marriage should be between a man and a woman, or close her business. Finding none of these options acceptable, Chelsey challenged the law to protect her freedoms to speak only those views she believes in.

Since challenging Louisville’s law, Chelsey has been flooded with messages. Some have been supportive. Some have been critical, but support her freedom to choose what she says.

But others are vile, personally attacking Chelsey, calling her names not worth repeating, and condemning her religious beliefs. People are creating fake email addresses to blast Chelsey with mean-spirited comments through her website’s contact page, writing articles claiming her Christian beliefs are inferior, and even hounding Chelsey’s friends just for knowing her.

Just look at Chelsey Nelson Photography’s Facebook page. People have posted an image of Jesus and Muhammad French-kissing on top of a rainbow, a description of the Bible and the Quran as the “two books that are destroying humanity,” and an image of a Nazi gathering. Posts call Chelsey’s religious beliefs “disgusting,” and declare Chelsey’s religious views unacceptable.

The rest of the messages mischaracterize Chelsey, Chelsey’s faith, and Louisville’s law. But because of the city’s law, Chelsey cannot even correct these mischaracterizations on her website or her social media accounts.

Ironically, what’s lost on the internet trolls is that she is standing up for their rights, too — their right to respectfully voice the opinions they believe in.

Let’s give an example. Many people posted photographs of same-sex couples getting married on Chelsey’s Facebook page to voice their disagreement with Chelsey’s views on marriage. Chelsey believes that each photograph she takes communicates an uplifting message about marriages between a man and a woman.

By protecting her freedom to promote her beliefs about marriage, Chelsey is also protecting the freedom of other photographers (and other speakers) to promote their contrary beliefs about marriage and other topics. In her lawsuit, Chelsey specifically supports the rights of same-sex wedding photographers to promote their beliefs and to decline requests for work that are inconsistent with those beliefs. Chelsey just wants this same freedom — for everyone.

In this way, Chelsey isn’t asking for special treatment. She just wants equal treatment. When a Muslim printer declines to create a flyer bearing Muhammad’s image, he’s doing so because he can’t convey the flyer’s message. Or when an atheist declines to design a church’s website, she’s doing so because she can’t affirm certain content she disagrees with. The point is that speakers decide what they say all the time. And they should have that freedom, no matter their views. That’s what free speech is all about. When the government has the power to compel people to speak views they disagree with, we all eventually lose.

Courts agree and support Chelsey. A federal appeals court and the Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of artists like Chelsey who serve clients regardless of who they are but want the freedom to choose what they say.

So if you disagree with Chelsey’s views, fine. But we all can get behind her effort to protect our freedom to choose what each of us wants to say. That’s what we call free speech consistency. And it’s a sentiment well worth defending.

Kate Anderson is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends), which represents Chelsey Nelson Photography.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.