Today, without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a New Mexico photography studio and its owners on the issue of whether businesses could refuse to provide creative services for same-sex couples. The highly-publicized case of Elane Photography v. Willock (Docket No. 13-585, cert. denied 4/7/2014) involved a photographer who refused on religious grounds to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The Supreme Court of New Mexico upheld a fine against her for violating a state law that prohibits commercial businesses from discriminating against same-sex couples.
The attorneys for Elane Photography had asked the Court to address the following issue:
“Whether applying a state public-accommodations statute to require a photographer to create expressive images and picture-books conveying messages that conflict with her religious beliefs violates the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.”
There are many reasons why the Court denied certiorari, including the possible overlap with the Hobby Lobby case which also addresses the rights of consciences of corporations, although the Elane Photography case involved a very small business rather than a corporation with thousands of employees.
While the photographer originally argued that the state law violated her religious freedom, in her petition to the Supreme Court, she raised the argument that she should be exempt from the New Mexico law because she had a First Amendment right not to be compelled to provide artistic work product in violation of her conscience. It is possible that the Court was uncomfortable addressing the free speech issue in the absence of the free exercise of religion issue, or that the case record was disjointed because the argument that reached the Court was different than the arguments raised at the lower levels.
It is unknown why the Court denied review but as there are several high-profile cases on this and similar issues it is likely that a similar case will be heard by the Court within the next few sessions.