Photographer Sues Wisconsin City Over Equal Protection Law's Threat to Religious Liberty

A Wisconsin-based photography business is filing a lawsuit against a city's equal protection law, arguing that it will force religious business owners to serve events they disagree with, such as same-sex weddings.

(Photo: Reuters/Mick Tsikas)Two bride figurines adorn the top of a wedding cake during an illegal same-sex wedding ceremony in central Melbourne August 1, 2009. Gay activists staged mock weddings across Australia on Saturday as the governing Labor Party voted against changing its ban on gay marriage.

Amy Lynn Photography Studio filed a "pre-enforcement lawsuit" against the city of Madison earlier this week over City Code § 39.03(5), which says that no one can be deprived of "equal enjoyment" of services based on their protected class status, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

At issue in the lawsuit was that Madison's ordinance and to an extent state law could be used to force a person to have to promote or service events and ideas they are religiously opposed to.

"While these laws should not apply to Amy since she serves individuals of every sexual orientation and every political belief, Madison and Wisconsin interpret their laws to force Amy to create and publish content she finds objectionable and to remove content she wants on her website," reads the suit.

"Specifically, these laws force Amy to photograph and write about same-sex marriages and pro-abortion groups because she does so for pro-life groups and for marriages between one man and one woman. And these laws prevent Amy from explaining why she cannot create photographs or write words promoting same-sex marriage or abortion."

The suit went on to argue that the ordinance "violates numerous rights protected by the Wisconsin constitution: the right to free speech, freedom of conscience, equal protection, and due process."

"To protect their constitutional rights, Amy and her studio ask this court to enjoin parts of Madison's and Wisconsin's public accommodation laws and to declare those parts unconstitutional so that Amy and every other speaker in Madison can regain control over what their speech says and what their consciences confess," continued the suit.

According to Madison City Code § 39.03(5), titled "Public Place of Accommodation or Amusement," all citizens are "entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation or amusement, as defined in this ordinance, without discrimination or segregation ... upon the basis of a person's protected class membership (other than a person's genetic identity)."

"It shall be an unfair discrimination practice and unlawful and hereby prohibited ... For any person to deny to another ... the full and equal enjoyment of any public place of accommodation or amusement because of the person's protected class membership (other than a person's genetic identity)," added the code.

"It shall be an unfair discrimination practice and unlawful and hereby prohibited ... For any person to directly or indirectly publish, circulate, display, mail or otherwise disseminate any written communication which s/he knows is to the effect that any of the facilities of any public place of accommodation or amusement will be denied to any person by reason of her/his protected class membership (other than a person's genetic identity) ..."

Amy Lynn Photography Studio is being represented by the conservative, Arizona-based law firm the Alliance Defending Freedom.

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement released Tuesday that his client engages in "a quintessential example of protected artistic expression and free speech."

"Multimedia artists should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of coercion, discrimination, or intimidation by the state," said Tedesco.

"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."

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