State Over Church

The question of same sex marriage wouldn’t concern me nearly so much if it were a matter of everyone being permitted to do their own thing. It doesn’t harm me if two men or two women pretend to be married to each other. I know that they cannot really be married. The problem is the use of the power of the courts to force people to go along, against their religious beliefs. Here is an example from Fox News.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Thursday that two Christian photographers who declined to photograph a same-sex union violated the state’s Human Rights Act. One justice said the photographers were “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”

In 2006 Vanessa Willock asked Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography, to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony” in the town of Taos.

Huguenin and her husband declined the job because their Christian beliefs were in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony.

Willock found another photographer at a cheaper price but nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission accusing Elane Photography of discrimination based on sexual orientation. She was later found guilty and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Notice that the people involved were able to find another photographer, yet they would not leave the Huguenins alone.

“The Huguenins today can no more turn away customers on the basis of their sexual orientation – photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony – than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims,” Justice Richard Bosson wrote in the court’s unanimous decision.

Bosson said the Christian photographers are now “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”

“Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering,” he wrote. “It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.”

A recent Rasmussen survey found that 85 percent of Americans support the right of a photographer to refuse participating in a same-sex wedding.

Bosson said the case provokes reflection on what the nation is about.

“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,” he wrote.

Somehow, it seems that only one side of this debate is always being asked to compromise and deny its beliefs. Why could the couple not respect the Huguenin’s beliefs? Why was there no respect for the beliefs of the President of Chick-fil-A. Why does the tolerance only flow one way?

Next Judge Bosson says something rather chilling.

Bosson said the case provokes reflection on what the nation is about.

“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,” he wrote.

He said the Constitution protects the rights of the Christian photographers to pray to the God of their choice and following religious teachings, but offered a sobering warning.

“But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life,” the justice wrote. “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.”

In other words, you can believe what you want and pray to whom you want, for now, but you had better not actually try to live by those beliefs if they conflict with the needs of the state or of protected classes. Is this even remotely compatible with traditional concepts of liberty? The lawyers representing the Huguenins do not think so.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal firm specializing in religious liberty cases, representing the photographers. Attorney Jordan Lorence said the ruling in effect means gay rights now trump religious rights.

“Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country,” Lorence said. “This decision is a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.”

Lorence said the New Mexico Supreme Court undermined the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience.

“If Elane Photographer does not have her rights of conscience protected, then basically nobody does,” he told Fox News. “What you have here is the government punishing someone who says, ‘I, in good conscience, cannot communicate the messages of this wedding.’”

Those sympathetic to the plaintiffs disagree.

Amber Royster, the executive director of Equality New Mexico, called the court decision a big victory.

“What it came down to is this was a case about discrimination,” she told Fox News. “While we certainly believe we are all entitled to our religious beliefs, religious beliefs don’t necessarily make it okay to break the law by discriminating against others.”

Royster said forcing a business that offers services to the public to abide by discrimination laws does not violate the First Amendment – and does not pit gay rights against religious rights.

“It’s about discrimination,” she said. “It’s not religious rights versus gay rights. We have a law on the books that makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBT persons. It makes it illegal for business to do that and this business broke the law by discriminating against this couple.”

No one seems to be very concerned about protecting people like those photographers against discrimination. Again, the tolerance only goes in one direction. If you hold positions that are not politically correct, you cannot expect any tolerance or sympathy for your position. You can expect to be bullied by the courts.

I would like to warn, once again, that anyone who thinks this court case is a victory for the cause of tolerance should consider very carefully that a government that has the power to coerce people like these photographers to act against their religious beliefs also has the power to force you to act against your beliefs. You have to consider not just what your friends will do with power but also your enemies. Depending on which way the wind blows, the government could just as easily have strict enforcement of sodomy laws and force gays to go straight, or else. Giving the government more power to enforce your ideology or preferences is a dangerous game that ultimately hurts everyone.


3 thoughts on “State Over Church”

  1. IMO, this case will be reversed on appeal. We are equally based on ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom from religion’.

    Justice Richard Bosson, et alii, have adjudged heretofore co-equal principles, no longer.

    It is insignificant that the gay couple were able to find satisfactory services, this is a foolish attempt at legislating from the judiciary.

    I suspect that a less topically politically-correct lawsuit will render gay rights activist, and supporters of their right to marry (of which, I am one) reconsider their unwise ignorance of our Constitutional protection.

    Further, this decision has the implication of redefining how a private business chooses to practice. Will a Jewish photographer now be required to offer their services to an Aryan brotherhood wedding? A rape victim be forced to photograph an assault perpetrators restorative justice conference? Will this ruling consequence sometimes financially punitive travel/location terms?

    If the judgement stands, the unintended consequences will mimic the lawyerly ADA games.


    1. I am not so sure it will be reversed. I think the next step would be the US Supreme Court and they might not even hear it. Actually that redefinition started with the passage of Civil Rights acts back in the 60’s. It was made illegal to discriminate against or refuse service to someone because of their race, and later sex. This sort of discrimination is wrong and at the time the legislation may have been needed, but it established the principle that the government can determine that a business may not choose who it serves. In other words, to an extent, racial equality was pursued at the expense of the freedom to be a racist.


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