(CN) – The Department of Justice expressed support for a Kentucky photographer who claims that Louisville’s anti-discrimination law forces her to shoot same-sex weddings.
The DOJ filed a statement of interest on Thursday in federal court in Western Kentucky, where Chelsey Nelson sued the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro government.
She sought a preliminary injunction against a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, among other things.
“The central question presented in this case is whether the government can compel a wedding photographer to photograph, provide photography editing services for, and blog about weddings of which she does not approve, and does not wish to photograph or to promote,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband.
Nelson declines requests to use her “artistic talents to promote or positively portray anything immoral, dishonorable to God, or contrary to [her] religious beliefs.”
Dreiband stated that the Louisville law implicates free-speech rights because “photography is an expressive art form” and “a wedding itself is an expressive event.”
He added that Nelson is entitled to an injunction because she has shown a likelihood of success on the merits of her claim.
“Just as the government may not compel the dissemination of expression, it equally may not compel the creation of expression … An artist cannot be forced to paint, a musician cannot be forced to play, and a poet cannot be forced to write,” Dreiband stated.
The assistant attorney general also asserted that Louisville’s ordinance qualifies as a content-neutral law that is subject to “heightened scrutiny.”
Nelson stated that she also blogs about the weddings she shoots in order to “share the joy of marriage between a man and a woman with as many people as possible.”
According to Dreiband, “A photographer who did not endeavor to tell the wedding story in a positive and celebratory manner through her work would not be doing the job she was hired to do.”
He also stated that the Louisville government did not present “a sufficient governmental interest to override Ms. Nelson’s weighty First Amendment interest in declining to create the expression at issue here.”
Dreiband was joined in his statement by Elliott Davis, the acting principal deputy assistant attorney general; and Eric Treene, special counsel for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
The Louisville/Jefferson County Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.