Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Wisconsin photographer wins case against anti-bias laws

Religious Liberty | Amy Lawson won’t be forced to photograph same-sex weddings, but only because she doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 8/08/17, 03:28 pm

A Wisconsin photographer and blogger won her fight last week against city and state laws forcing her to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Amy Lawson’s saving grace did not come from the First Amendment but from her lack of a brick-and-mortar location.

“The court’s announcement has important implications for everyone in Wisconsin who values artistic freedom,” said Jonathan Scruggs, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who argued the case before Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess on Aug. 1. “It means that government officials must allow creative professionals without storefronts anywhere in the city and state the freedom to make their own decisions about which ideas they will use their artistic expression to promote.” 

Lawson’s successful “pre-enforcement” lawsuit, Amy Lynn Photography Studio v. Madison, is part of a new tack taken by religious liberty attorneys—suing government entities over nondiscrimination laws before someone sues Christian service providers for violating those laws. 

Fearing reprisals for refusing to photograph gay weddings, Lawson stopped taking wedding assignments until the conclusion of her lawsuit, filed March 7. Failure to comply with the City of Madison’s nondiscrimination ordinance could have cost the 25-year-old photographer $500 for each day of noncompliance. The state fine for first-time violators is $1,000. Repeat offenders could be hit with a $10,000 fine.

During the hearing, attorneys for the city and state agreed their respective laws did not apply to Amy Lynn Photography Studio because the business operates through a website. But should Lawson open a storefront enterprise, the city ordinance would apply, the city’s attorney warned during the hearing.

Lawson didn’t need a storefront to attract protesters, who went to her business’s Facebook page to tank her rating. Of the 22 ratings posted since the Aug. 1 hearing, 20 gave Amy Lynn Photography Studio one out of a possible 5 stars and disparaged her character for good measure.

First Liberty Institute First Liberty Institute Oscar Rodriguez

Veteran sues Air Force over free speech investigation

Attorneys for veteran Oscar Rodriguez, forcibly dragged from a friend’s retirement ceremony over his planned speech, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force on July 27 for refusing to turn over the results of its investigation into the incident. Freedom of Information Act requests made last year to the department have languished for more than 200 days—well beyond the 20-day response mandated by federal law.

Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, accuses the Air Force of trying to hide information. He said the department investigations into the March 2016 incident at Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., are complete. But the Air Force has ignored repeated requests for the results, which could vindicate Rodriguez and address the religious liberty issues at the heart of the case.

Video of the altercation shows airmen forcibly removing Rodriquez from a retirement ceremony during which he had been invited to recite his “flag folding” speech. Air Force officials reportedly objected to the speech, which includes six mentions of God, and told Rodriguez he could not give it. When he attempted to speak during the ceremony, officials removed him from the base.

First Liberty sent a demand letter in June 2016 claiming multiple violations of Rodriguez’s constitutional rights. The department ordered two investigations—one into the alleged First Amendment violations and one into alleged violations of the Fourth and Fifth amendments. —B.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Gerry Broome, File Associated Press/Photo by Gerry Broome, File A sidewalk leads to the South Building at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina passes campus Free Speech law

North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that reaffirms free speech rights on University of North Carolina system campuses and initiates disciplinary sanctions for those who violate those rights. But the proposed solution, critics say, could create its own speech limitations.

Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the Restore Campus Free Speech Act to become law without his signature. Its passage follows several incidents in the last year of sometimes violent protests on U.S. college campuses, during which demonstrators sought to shut down or shout down invited speakers, most of them conservative.

The bill, crafted after a model proposed by the Goldwater Institute, prevents the cancellation of presentations by people deemed “offensive” by students or faculty and establishes prescribed penalties for repeat offenders of campus free speech codes. The law also allows individuals to sue institutions for violating the law.

But some college administrators and faculty fear efforts to address free speech violations may inadvertently shut down constitutionally protected forms of dissent on campus. Federal lawmakers and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have floated the idea of withholding funds to universities who stifle free speech.

State legislators in Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin are considering the Goldwater Institute model while their counterparts in Colorado, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have already passed laws that vary in their affirmation of free speech and the consequences for squelching it on campus. —B.P.

Speech spots: Limiting speech by location

Two students at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., are challenging the school’s “free speech zones,” a common policy designed to limit public discourse to often out-of-the-way corners of campus. Brandon Withers and Michelle Gregoire, members of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), filed suit in federal court after campus security officers arrested them for handing out copies of the Constitution. Although the college dropped trespassing charges against the pair, the policies cited for the arrest remain in place, granting “unbridled discretion to college officials” and lacking “any protections against viewpoint discrimination,” the lawsuit states. Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom argue Kellogg’s policy, and others like it, are unconstitutional. —B.P.

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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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  • socialworker
    Posted: Wed, 08/09/2017 08:34 am

    I wonder what makes the theoretical difference between the storefront enterprise and the business without a store.  Is telling your beliefs and convictions to people face to face more hurtful than on a web site?

  •  Marvin's picture
    Posted: Sat, 08/12/2017 08:41 am


    Loved your articles. However, the one about the Air Force and Oscar Rodriguez was written upside down. It would have been much easier to follow if I knew what Oscar had done but you did not deliver that until the second to the last paragraph. 

    Keep writing for us. Thank you.