Religious compromise as “the price of citizenship”

Michael Avramovich gives us useful details about that New Mexico Supreme Court case we blogged about that ruled that a Christian photographer had to shoot a gay commitment service (New Mexico doesn’t even have gay marriage!) against the dictates of her conscience.

In the account, we hear from the judge, who puts forward a new legal principle that, if it becomes a precedent, would essentially end religious liberty in this country.  The judge said that compromising one’s religious beliefs is “the price of citizenship.”

From Michael Avramovich,  The New Slavery: New Mexico Supreme Court Says Christians Must Work for Homosexuals – Mere Comments:

In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin, who co-owns Elane Photography in Albuquerque with her husband, Jonathan, to photograph a “commitment ceremony” that Willock and Misty Pascottini wanted to hold in Taos. Rather than saying that she was unavailable on that date, Ms. Huguenin declined because of her Christian beliefs. She believed that their Christian faith was in conflict with the message communicated by such a “ceremony.” Willock and Pascottini found another photographer, but nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission accusing Elane Photography of discrimination. The Commission held a one-day hearing, issued an order finding that Elaine had engaged in “sexual orientation” discrimination, and ordered the Huguenins pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to the two lesbians. The Huguenins appealed this decision all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which issued its ruling last Thursday against the Huguenins. In its ruling, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez held that a photographer who declines to use her artistic expression to communicate the story of a same-sex ceremony is obligated to do so. (I wonder whether the outcome would have been the same had it been a Moslem photographer? Just asking.) New Mexico does not allow homosexual marriage and Justice Chavez’ opinion acknowledged that providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian’s sincerely-held, traditional beliefs.

In a concurrence accompanying the opinion, Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote that the photographer and her husband, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.” (Emphasis added.) Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote:

At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. 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. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.
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.

Thus, Justice Bosson says that the photographer cannot use the “conduct” of the lesbians to decide whether to take photographs, but without irony, uses the “conduct” of the photographer to rule against her. In response to the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, whose organization represented the Huguenins, rightly said:

Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country. The idea that free people can be ‘compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives’ as the ‘price of citizenship’ is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom. Americans are now on notice that the price of doing business is their freedom.

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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