How long have we been wrestling with this question now? The debate is still not entirely settled as to whether or not the government can compel someone to take part in a wedding ceremony which violates their religious beliefs as part of their professional services or punish them for refusing to do so. And more cases involving bakers of cakes, caterers and of course, wedding photographers, continue to crop up in the news. Yet another of the latter comes to us from Wisconsin this month where, in a reversal of previous trends, a local court has found in favor of a photographer who wouldn’t provide her services at gay weddings, saying that her rights as an artist were being violated. (Christian Post)
The state of Wisconsin and its capital city of Madison cannot legally force a Christian photographer to photograph same-sex weddings, a court has said.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal group defending evangelical Christian photographer Amy Lawson, announced that Dane County Circuit Court vowed in a hearing Tuesday to issue an order declaring that Lawson is exempt from city and state laws that could force her to photograph same-sex weddings or face crippling punishments.
ADF explained in a press release that although the court has not yet officially issued a preliminary injunction in the case, it is expected to do so in the coming weeks.
Supporters of religious freedom will no doubt tout that case as a victory in the long battle still to come. But as much as I hate to do it I’m going to toss some cold water on that conclusion because the circumstances of this pending decision are notably different from previous cases. The first item to consider is the fact that this is a county court, not a state or federal one. Any decision made here can and almost certainly will be appealed and there’s a long trek ahead through far less friendly territory.
But even more than that, the specifics of Ms. Lawson’s situation are also rather unique. First of all, rather than being a “wedding photographer” with a commercial studio, Lawson is an independent artist who does not have a physical storefront where she would regularly interface with customers. In that regard, the court seems to be making an exception, saying that if Lawson was in fact running a studio she would be in trouble. Here’s the key takeaway.
[T]he city and state have agreed with the court’s finding that “such professionals cannot be punished under public accommodation laws for exercising their artistic freedom because those laws simply don’t apply to them.”
They’re not arguing against the constitutionality of laws which force professional photographers, bakers or other service providers to deliver those services over their religious objections. They’re simply saying that artists are exempt from those laws. And to make matters even more complicated, upon appeal I would imagine that the SJW contingent would be trying to force them to justify who qualifies as “an artist” rather than a business owner. Isn’t decorating cakes a form of art? The same goes with decorating reception halls. It all comes down to whether or not the defense can successfully define Lawson’s photography work as not being, “a place of public accommodation.”
This probably good news for Amy Lawson (at least in the short term) but I wouldn’t read much more into it than that. It just doesn’t sound like the sort of challenge which will serve as precedent in the broader mixture of similar cases making their way through the courts.