Raul Labrador joined the Attorneys general of 21 states to file an amicus brief with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the religious liberty and free speech rights of a Louisville wedding photographer who declined to take pictures of same-sex marriages.
According to Cornell Law School, an amicus brief is filed by individuals or groups outside of the case with a strong interest in the matter who submit a brief to influence the court’s decision.
“I am proud to join this brief on behalf of Idaho,” Attorney General Labrador said in a press release. “Religious freedom is an inherent American value and the cornerstone of a healthy society. I will not allow this fundamental right to be eroded. I will take every opportunity to defend religious liberty and freedom of speech against any attack.”
Chelsey Nelson owns a wedding photography business in Louisville, Kentucky. The brief said she views weddings as “significant and joyous events” because she believes that “marriage between a man and a woman is a gift from God that should be treasured and celebrated.” Nelson said her faith shapes everything she does —including her wedding photography.
Louisville has a public accommodations ordinance that says it is unlawful to discriminate against any individual in regard to public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, familial status or gender identity.
The state of Kentucky passed the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act in 2013.
According to the law, the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.
This puts Louisville’s ordinance in possible conflict with Kentucky law.
Nelson initially filed a lawsuit against the ordinance arguing it could force her to take on same-sex wedding assignments, which would be contrary to her religious beliefs.
The district court ruled in favor of Nelson and the case has now been appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Amicus brief argument
The brief argues that the opinion of the lower court should be upheld and Nelson’s religious freedoms respected. If the city forces Nelson to take photos for a same-sex wedding when she objects to the message that speech conveys, the brief says this counts as compelled speech, which violates the Free Speech Clause.
Kentucky’s religious freedom law required Nelson to show that her religious beliefs motivate her to refuse to photograph same-sex weddings and that Louisville’s law substantially burdens her right to act or not act according to those beliefs.
According to the brief, She has shown both and that enforcing the public accommodation law against Nelson would require her either to express a message contrary to her sincerely held religious beliefs or close shop.
The brief called attention to Nelson’s willingness to take heterosexual wedding photos when hired by a couple’s gay or lesbian wedding planner, parents or other family members and her willingness to provide editing services to LGBT photographers and small businesses that are owned and operated by LGBT persons.
The brief also says Nelson’s objection goes beyond just same-sex marriage saying she cannot photograph other weddings that would similarly send a message at odds with her beliefs such as photographing an open or polygamous marriage as well as any wedding that condones racism, celebrating sacrilegious ideas or negatively portrays marriage.
For more information, the amicus brief can be read here.