August 23, 2013 — ReligiousLiberty.TV
Yesterday, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a photographer’s decision not to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony even if it would violate the photographer’s deeply held religious beliefs. In 2006, Elane Huguenin, owner of Elane Photography, declined a request to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. In 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled that she had engaged in illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation and ordered her to pay $6,600 in attorney fees.
Vanessa Willock, who requested the photography, is an Equal Employment Opportunity representative with the University of New Mexico.
Huguenin had argued that they were not opposed to photographing gay customers but that their Christian beliefs prevented them from doing so in a way that would endorse same-sex marriage.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard Bosson recognized the restrictions on liberty from the decision, but claimed that the court was advancing a greater good. “In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”
Cases involving the conflict between nondiscrimination policies and individual religious freedom are increasing, as is the notion that religion should remain between a personal matter residing solely in the mind and not affect one’s conduct in society. One can respect the right of two people to commit themselves to a same-sex marriage, but using the power of government to force others to express themselves artistically in ways that support that decision is a violation of basic rights of conscience and the First Amendment.
ACLU deputy legal director Louis Melling wrote, “Today’s opinion recognizes the sincerity of those beliefs, but makes clear that no one’s religious beliefs make it okay to break the law by discriminating against others.”
Responding to the court’s decision, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, Jordan Lorence, said, “Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country.”
This case will likely be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. As of this writing, the state of New Mexico does not recognize same-sex marriages.
Public opinion appears to side with Huguenin, as a Rasmussen poll last month found that “If a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage is asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, 85% of American adults believe he has the right to say no.”
The Decision in Elane Photography v. Willock is available here: http://www.nmcompcomm.us/nmcases/nmsc/slips/SC33,687.pdf
After posting this, Jason Hines blogged about the case at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com/2013/08/almost.html He disagrees with my conclusion that favors the right of a photographer not to be compelled to produce artwork that violates her conscience, and argues in favor of the decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court on moral and spiritual grounds. What do you think? - Michael Peabody