What's at stake
- The freedom of creative professionals to create and publicize messages they choose without facing unjust punishment at the hands of the government.
- Whether the government can compel creative professionals to promote political messages that violate their core beliefs.
- Whether the government can silence creative professionals from writing political messages that the government disagrees with.
Amy Lawson is a 25 year-old evangelical Christian who seeks to honor God in everything she does, creates, and says. As the sole owner of Amy Lynn Photography Studio, she offers visual storytelling services to clients on a commission basis. In addition to taking and editing photographs for individuals, events, and organizations, Amy posts those photographs on her studio’s blog and social media sites. She also writes comments praising and celebrating each client’s activity or event.
Because of her religious beliefs about marriage and the sanctity of life, Amy offers images that promote marriage between a man and a woman, the sanctity of life, and organizations that uphold these views. To make clear to prospective customers that she could not promote same-sex weddings through her photography and words, Amy put a statement on her website in 2016 saying she wouldn’t photograph same-sex weddings. One of Amy’s wedding clients objected and said she wouldn’t use Amy because of Amy’s beliefs about marriage. That event along with all the news reports of Christians being sued for not promoting same-sex marriage caused Amy to take down the website statement for fear it might violate the law.
Amy’s fears were justified. By its terms, Madison’s law makes it illegal for public accommodations to deny “equal enjoyment” because of someone’s sexual orientation or political beliefs (defined as “one’s opinion, manifested in speech or association, concerning the social, economic and governmental structure of society and its institutions”) or to publish “any communication” that denies facilities or that conveys a person’s patronage is “unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable” because of someone’s sexual orientation or political beliefs. Wisconsin’s law does the same regarding sexual orientation. While these laws should not affect Amy because she accepts and declines projects based on the message that project sends and not the status her clients hold, Amy feared that Madison and Wisconsin would interpret their laws like government officials in other jurisdictions — to compel and restrict Amy just because she objects to expressing certain messages. The net result would be:
- Amy must create photographs and blog posts promoting same-sex marriage and pro-abortion groups because she will create photographs and blog posts promoting opposite-sex marriage and pro-life groups.
- Amy cannot publish a statement on the studio’s website explaining her beliefs about opposite-sex marriage or abortion or explaining why the studio cannot create photographs and posts promoting same-sex marriage or abortion.
The penalties for violating these laws are severe. If Amy violates the Madison law, she can be punished with an injunction, out of pocket expenses, economic and noneconomic damages, costs, attorney’s fees, and a civil fine up to $500 per day.
If Amy violates the Wisconsin law, she can be punished with out-of-pocket expenses, costs, attorney fees, cease and desist orders, re-education training, revocation of her business license, and a fine up to $1000 for first time violators, and up to $10,000 for repeat violators. Also, if she violates the Wisconsin law, anyone can sue her and obtain injunctive relief, damages (including punitive damages), costs, and attorney’s fees.
Amy couldn’t comply with the law because creating photographs and blog posts promoting same-sex marriage and pro-abortion groups violates her artistic, religious, and political beliefs and directly contradicts her own message beatifying opposite-sex marriage and the sanctity of life. Amy also couldn’t comply with the law because she wants to explain her religious and political beliefs about marriage and the sanctity of life on her studio’s website.
Left with no viable option and seeing lawsuits against creative professionals all across the country, Amy filed a pre-enforcement challenge to gain clarity whether these laws applied to her and to challenge these unjust laws before they could have been enforced against her.
In August 2017, the Wisconsin District Court for Dane County issued two declaratory judgments stating that neither Madison’s law nor Wisconsin’s law applied to Amy and her business, and therefore neither law stopped Amy from operating her business in accordance with her faith. Amy thus won her freedom to decline to promote objectionable messages and to express her religious beliefs on her studio’s website. Amy is currently operating her business in Madison in a way consistent with her beliefs without fear of punishment.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom serves as lead counsel for Amy Lynn Photography Studio free of charge.
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Jonathan Scruggs: Why a Madison photographer is challenging laws regulating her artistic freedom (Madison Capital Times, 2017-03-09)