Clarifying the Scope of Religious Freedom
Amy Lynn Photography Studio, LLC v. City of Madison
Wis. Stat. § 106.52. prohibits “public places of accommodation” from discriminating against individuals on the basis of, among other things, their sexual orientation. Amy Lawson and her photography studio brought a pre-enforcement challenge against the Department of Workforce Development (“DWD”) based upon her concern that DWD would imminently prosecute her under this statute. Specifically, she was concerned that the Department would use this statute to force her to communicate messages contrary to her sincere religious belief in heterosexual marriage.
Arguing on behalf of DWD, the Solicitor General's office maintained that Lawson’s suit should be dismissed, as it is based upon a hypothetical prosecution that would never come to pass. In the more than 30 years that Section 106.52 has been on the books, DWD has never applied it to independent contractors like Lawson who operate out of their own homes and provide their services on location. Moreover, DWD has never applied Section 106.52 to tread upon an individual’s rights under the Wisconsin Constitution’s Conscience Clause. The reason for this lack of relevant prosecutions is simple: Section 106.52 simply does not apply to independent contractors like Lawson and does not apply to anyone who declines to provide services based upon a constitutionally protected religious objection.
Status: In a declaratory judgment based on language agreed upon by the parties, the Dane County Circuit Court agreed with DWD that the statute does not apply to Lawson's business, as it does not meet the statutory definition of a "public accommodation."