A prominent Christian legal organization representing a New Mexico photographer that was was recently forced by the state Supreme Court to ‘compromise … to accommodate’ requests to shoot homosexual dedication ceremonies is warning that similar cases are presenting a “real threat” to Christians across the country.
As previously reported, Elane Huguenin and her husband Jon, who operate run Elane Photography in Albuquerque, found themselves having to answer to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission in 2006 when they turned down a lesbian who wanted Elane to photograph her upcoming ceremony with her partner.
The Commission ruled against Huguenin in 2008, stating that she was guilty of violating the state’s “sexual orientation” discrimination law, which prohibits “any person in a public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services … to any person because of … sexual orientation.” The Commission then ordered the photographer to pay nearly $7,000 in fines for refusing to shoot the ceremony.
Huguenin appealed the decision in December 2009, arguing that forcing her to go against her beliefs regarding homosexuality would be like forcing African Americans to photograph Klu Klux Klan members. Last June, the Mexico State Court of Appeals released a 45-page opinion upholding the guilty verdict.
“The owners of Elane Photography must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed upon the conduct of their commercial enterprise despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with these government interests,” Judge Tim Garcia wrote on behalf of the panel. “The Klu-Klux-Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”
The Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) then appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously this month that Huguenin must shoot same-sex ceremonies no matter how sincere her convictions may be. Justice Richard C. Bosson, who wrote a concurring opinion, asserted that the Huguenins may freely live out their faith privately, but when it comes to running a public business, they will have to “pay the price” and check their Christian convictions at the door.
“The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more,” he wrote. “But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.”
“[T]he Huguenins…now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” Bosson acknowledged. “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. … In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”
However, ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who represented Elane Photography in the case, told Christian News Network that he found the words of the New Mexico Supreme Court to be “chilling.”
“They’ve said, ‘Hey, you know we live in a diverse society, and you have to give up your beliefs to accommodate others,'” he explained. “It was chilling because living in a free society doesn’t mean giving up your constitutional rights…”
Lorence said that Justice Bosson’s insinuation that Christians can separate their beliefs from their conduct is misplaced, for Christianity is a daily lifestyle, not merely a belief in the existence of Christ.
“It’s simply incorrect in the absolute way that he stated it,” he stated. “The First Amendment protects more than just beliefs. It also protects the free exercise of religion; not just to believe. … It does protect a person’s freedom of mind, … but there are actions that are protected.”
Lorence agreed that Elane Photography is not an exception in regard to businesses that are facing pressure to compromise their beliefs and accommodate homosexual behavior.
“It’s beginning to happen all over the country,” he explained, noting that non-discrimination laws are being used to force Christians to facilitate homosexual ceremonies against their convictions.
“So, we have other wedding cases around the country, [such as] the baker cases in Colorado and Oregon, and the florist in Washington state. We have cases like Catholic Charities having its license to adopt out children yanked because they declined to adopt children to same-sex couples,” Lorence continued. “[There’s also] the Christian counselors who cannot in good conscience counsel a sames-sex couple on how to improve their relationship, so they refer the couple to someone else … and get kicked out of graduate school, and on and on.”
He said that he fears that in the years to come, churches could be next, as the law is a frequent weapon used to strong arm Christians into compliance despite the Biblical mandate in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to “be a partaker in other men’s sins.”
“The other side seems to downplay these cases, [contending] that they’re not significant, but these are real threats,” Lorence outlined. “There are real people that are suffering, and I am surprised at their lack of commitment to freedom of expression [and] to right of conscience, because if Elane Photography is denied these rights, those on the other side could be denied those rights by the government in the future.”
He opined that Christians need to be prepared for the days ahead, which may test the mettle of business owners of faith on a national level.
“These are increasingly difficult times,” Lorence said. “We need people who are willing to stand alone for what is true because sooner or later, people are going to see marriage defined the way the Bible does. …. To love our neighbor as ourself I think means to tell the truth that marriage is defined only as one man and one woman.”