by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Is compromising your faith the cost of citizenship?
The answer is apparently “yes,” according to New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson.
A person can be compelled to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire his or her life in order to accommodate the contrasting values of others, he ruled.
In the case of Elane Photography v. Willock, Bosson wrote that Elaine and Jon Huguenin, co-owners of a photography business in New Mexico, were “free to think, to say, to believe as they wish . . . pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives.”
Nevertheless, being compelled to violate those beliefs was simply the price they had to pay to participate in civic life.
“In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship,” wrote Bosson in his concurring opinion delivered Aug. 22, 2013.
It all began in 2006, when Elaine Huguenin and her husband Jon received a request by email from Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth to photograph their same-sex “committal ceremony.”
Same-sex marriage was not legal statewide in New Mexico at the time, but it became so through a ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court on Dec. 19, 2013.
The Huguenins, who are devout evangelical Christians, decided that they couldn’t honor the request. To do so would compel them to violate what their faith taught them about marriage.
Although they quickly found another photographer, Willock and Collinsworth filed a discrimination complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.
The same-sex couple was represented by a private attorney affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, although the ACLU did not officially support the lawsuit. The Huguenins were charged under a nondiscrimination statute under New Mexico’s public accommodation law.
As the case began its journey through the courts, the first stop was an administrative hearing before a judge.
“The company, Elane Photography, was found guilty of discrimination and ordered to pay just under $6,700,” said Jordon Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. “We appealed the case and lost every step of the way.”
Lorence made a number of legal arguments for the defense. He argued that not only did this violate his client’s freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, but that to force his client to take the photos was compelled speech and thus a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Finally, the case went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled against Elane Photography, and in which Bosson wrote his “price of citizenship” concurring opinion.
“What I feel [Justice Bosson] skips over is [this question]: Why isn’t Vanessa Willock’s price of citizenship accommodating Elane Photography?” said Lorence. “There were hundreds of photographers who were willing to take these pictures — why does she have to single out one for punishment who, as a matter of conscience, could not create the images that would tell the story of their ceremony?”
“[Justice Bosson] has a one-sided view of the price of citizenship,” Lorence continued, “that only people who have a traditional view of marriage are the ones who have to give way to others demanding a redefinition of marriage.”
The case was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. The court did not uphold the New Mexico Supreme Court, but refused to grant certiorari — it refused to hear the case. The high court did not say why, and no legal precedent was set.
This case is now over and the Huguenins are trying to decide what to do with their business.
The questions raised by the case are still unanswered, and other similar cases are working their way through lower courts at this time.
“If Elane doesn’t have the right, no one has the right [of First Amendment and free speech protections],” said Lorence. “That’s the sad thing with these sweeping conclusions [by the New Mexico Supreme Court] rejecting the legal arguments we raised in the Elane Photography case.”
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