Christian Business Owner Wins Important Court Case Protecting Religious Liberty

Posted on August 30, 2017 in Public Policy, Religious Freedom by

Photographer Amy Lawson of Maison, Wisconsin

Photographer Amy Lawson of Maison, Wisconsin

Over the past few years we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about Christian business owners being sued for seeking to live and do business according to their deeply held religious convictions. The media had fun blasting hard-working Christian business owners trying to live out their faith in public when they were taken to court. This time, however, a Christian business owner scored a win in court that could set a major precedent for future cases.

A recent article states:

“Earlier this year Amy Lawson, a professional photographer and blogger who works out of her Madison home, filed what is known as a ‘pre-enforcement challenge’ lawsuit against the City of Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, alleging that the city’s public accommodations ordinance and the state’s public accommodations law prohibit her from conducting her business, Amy Lynn Photography Studio, according to the dictates of her conscience and beliefs. Lawson argued the ordinance and law even force her to use her creative expression in support of activities she doesn’t agree with, including same-sex marriage and abortion.”

The judge in this case determined that Lawson’s home-based business is not subject to the city of Madison’s public accommodations ordinance or the state of Wisconsin’s public accommodations law.

Furthermore, the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin agreed to this judgment.

This is welcomed news to Christians that have come under fire for trying to live and do business according to their deeply held religious convictions. Certainly the photographer in New Mexico, the baker in Colorado, the florist in Washington, and many others will be overjoyed to hear of this news; even as they have faced lawsuits, fines, and a total loss of their livelihood.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is still cause for concern. For a home-based business this very well may set a precedent that resounds throughout the country. Other faith based business owners may seek similar protections from the legal attacks they have faced.

But, this simply isn’t good enough.

What I mean is that Christians should not be forced to operate their businesses from their homes to avoid lawsuits for doing business according to their sincerely held religious convictions. Forcing Christians out of the public sector for their faith is religious discrimination, but it’s also ethically and ideologically hypocritical. Telling someone they can refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding because they don’t have a storefront is supporting their religious freedom based on the location of their business. If it is appropriate for one Christian to refuse to bake a cake, photograph, or arrange flowers then it should be appropriate for all.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m thankful for this decision. But I don’t see this as the end of this issue. We will continue to see Christians attacked in the public sector for living according to their faith. And, church-state separatists will continue to push their fictitious “wall of separation” as the solution.

Take for example the school district in Alabama that was threatened for participating in a baccalaureate ceremony. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist organization dedicated to threatening every public employee for doing anything remotely religious, sent a letter to the school superintendent complaining because a principal took part in a baccalaureate service that “included prayer, Scripture reading, and references to God.” A recent article shares part of the letter from FFRF:

“Baccalaureate programs are religious services that include prayer and worship. Schools may not in any way plan, design, or supervise baccalaureate programs. To avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious practices, the district must immediately end all involvement with the baccalaureate…This means that no public school employees can be involved in further hosting, organization, planning, or coordination of the event.”

One of the troubling parts of this statement is at the end when it says “no public school employees can be involved in further hosting, organization, planning, or coordination of the event.”

The FFRF is suggesting that anyone that works for a school cannot act in an individual, and private capacity as it relates to the baccalaureate ceremony. This is in order to “avoid the perception of school sponsorship.” This is another example of how the infringement on personal liberty and religious freedom is being enforced. It’s no longer good enough for the atheist that the school not sponsor or host the program, it is now deemed necessary that no school employee have anything to do with the ceremony.

This raises the question, if the baccalaureate ceremony is being held at a public place, a conference center. And if local parents are organizing the event, creating invitations, setting up the conference center, decorating, and handling all the details. Do I, if I am a local schoolteacher, have the right to take part in organizing this ceremony along with other local parents? Do I also have the right to attend the ceremony? And, do I have the right to speak (if asked) at the ceremony and share my faith or pray?

The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding yes!

If the answer is no, and it is based on my status as a public school teacher; and it is also based on the idea that my participation as a public school teacher would give the impression or “perception of school sponsorship,” many others would be excluded. All public officials would be forbidden to attend. Police officers and other first responders would be prohibited from attending. And local government officials would all be barred from attending or participating. Many parents, proud of their kids and their faith would be forbidden from attending or participating in this ceremony.

It’s encouraging seeing a court recognize the right of Christian business owners to live and do business according to their faith. But this one victory is not the end of this issue. We can be sure that other business owners will be attacked and other court cases will arise. Let us be mindful to pray for more victories that allow Christians to continue doing business and serving their communities.

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