MADISON, Wis. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a photographer and blogger in Madison filed suit against city and state officials in a Wisconsin court Tuesday. The lawsuit challenges a sweeping local ordinance and a state law that force commissioned creative professionals to promote messages that violate their beliefs.
For example, a Madison-based speechwriter who opposes President Trump would be subject to severe punishment if she refused to write a speech for him. Under these same laws, Amy Lawson and her company, Amy Lynn Photography Studio, are required to create photographs and blog posts promoting pro-abortion groups and same-sex marriages if she creates content that promotes pro-life organizations or that celebrates the marriage of one man and one woman.
Combined, the laws also forbid creative professionals from posting a statement on their website explaining that the artist reserves discretion not to use their artistic talents to promote messages or causes that are inconsistent with their deepest convictions, even though business owners in these professions frequently decline projects for these reasons. The laws therefore bar Lawson from publishing a statement that says she cannot promote pro-abortion organizations or same-sex marriage because of her religious, political, and artistic beliefs.
“Every American, and especially creative professionals, shouldn’t be threatened with punishment for disagreeing with the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The government must allow artists the freedom to make their own decisions about which ideas they will use their artistic expression to promote. Amy is happy to take photographs of anyone; she simply objects to being forced to participate in events, or promote messages or causes, that she can’t support.”
“Multimedia artists should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of coercion, discrimination, or intimidation by the state,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Photography is a quintessential example of protected artistic expression and free speech. Anyone who supports fashion designers who won’t design for a particular person because of their association with an objectionable cause should certainly support the photographer who simply doesn’t want to be forced by law to pour out her creative heart and soul to directly promote a cause or event in violation of her conscience.”
Known in legal circles as “pre-enforcement challenges,” such lawsuits enable citizens to challenge a law that threatens their rights before the government enforces it against them. Pre-enforcement cases are the “bread and butter” of civil rights litigation, with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood routinely filing them to attack laws they oppose, sometimes even before those laws take effect.
The complaint in Amy Lynn Photography Studio v. City of Madison, which ADF attorneys filed in Dane County Circuit Court, explains how the Madison and state laws violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s guarantees of free speech, freedom of conscience, and equal protection—in addition to other protections. Specifically, the suit challenges portions of Madison Code Sec. 39.03, the city’s public accommodation law, and the related state code provisions.
Madison and the state have construed those laws to force creative professionals like Lawson to endorse and promote messages in conflict with their conscience even though they gladly serve everyone and decide which stories to tell based solely on the message, not any client’s personal characteristics.
Madison officials have forewarned that they consider a distinction between same-sex marriage and marriage between a man and woman to be forbidden in the public accommodations context because they consider promoting or celebrating the two ceremonies to be the same. The ordinance also forbids anyone doing business from declining to promote a message on the basis of political belief; therefore, a speechwriter refusing to write a speech requested by President Trump would be in violation and subject to the same severe penalties as would apply to Lawson.
Since 2006, Madison has investigated at least 11 alleged violations involving sexual orientation or political beliefs, and Wisconsin officials have investigated at least nine businesses accused of not complying with their respective laws based on sexual orientation. Violators of Madison’s law are subject to criminal fines of up to $500 per day as well as liability for civil damages. Those who violate the state law are subject to severe criminal fines of up to $10,000 and business license suspension or revocation, as well as civil damages and punitive damages.
Lawson’s lawsuit points to the websites of other Madison photographers who freely and clearly voice their beliefs supporting abortion and same-sex marriage. As the complaint notes, “Amy and the studio support the rights of the[se] businesses…to create art, blog posts, and other expressive mediums consistent with their owners’ beliefs” and conversely “to decline any requests for commissioned artwork, blog posts, or any other expressive medium because that request is inconsistent with the owners’ beliefs. Amy and the Studio simply want these same freedoms.”
The lawsuit requests that the court restore Lawson to equal footing with other expressive business owners and issue the appropriate injunctions to stop Madison and the state from taking enforcement action against them. Michael D. Dean, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for Lawson and Amy Lynn Photography Studio.
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Teh-DESS’-koh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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