August 20, 2019

Award-winning artist files suit over Missouri’s American Indian art law

Constitutional Rights of American Indian

Kansas City, Missouri; August 20, 2019: A federal lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri challenges a Missouri law that prevents an American Indian artist from talking truthfully about her art and, in turn, threatens her livelihood. Peggy Fontenot is an award-winning American Indian photographer and artist, specializing in hand-made beaded jewelry and cultural items. Her art has been shown in prestigious settings, including the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, and her jewelry was worn by Kathy Ireland on the pages of Sports Illustrated.

Peggy is a member of the Patawomeck tribe, which is recognized by the state of Virginia. Missouri’s law forbids Peggy from describing her artwork as “American Indian-made” solely because her tribe isn’t yet formally recognized by the federal government. Her lawsuit alleges that Missouri’s law is squarely unconstitutional.

“I was born an American Indian, I’ve always been an American Indian, and I’ve always identified myself as such,” Fontenot said. “It’s my right to truthfully describe myself and my art. The law limits my speech, and it limits other artists and their speech. It’s a bad law.”

“By violating Peggy’s First Amendment rights, the law puts her livelihood at risk,” attorney Caleb Trotter said. “People have the right to truthfully tell people about who they are and what their products are. This law keeps Peggy from truthfully telling her customers about herself and makes it harder for her to sell her art.”

In 2016, Peggy challenged a similar law in Oklahoma. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled in March that the law was unconstitutional and struck it down. Fontenot is represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation and the Freedom Center of Missouri.

More information about Peggy’s case, as well as photos of her artwork, is available at pacificlegal.org/IndianArt.

Case Documents

Fontenot vs. Schmitt - Complaint
August 20, 2019 Download

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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