A district judge in New Mexico has affirmed a state Civil Rights Commission order that a small photography company pay $6,600 for refusing to violate the owners’ Christian beliefs by photographing a lesbian “ceremony,” even though same-sex marriage isn’t legal in the state.
“Christians in the marketplace should not be subject to predatory legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs,” said ADF senior counsel Jordan Lorence. “The Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to promote a message they disagree with and thereby violate their conscience.
“Should the government force a videographer who is an animal-rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy? American small-business owners do not surrender their constitutional rights at the marketplace gate, nor can the government make people choose between their faith and their livelihood,” he said.
The commission had ruled that a small photography company, Elane Photography, run by a young Christian husband and wife, was guilty of “sexual orientation” discrimination under state antidiscrimination laws for declining to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony.”
Malott’s ruling said the Christian owners were compelled to photograph the ceremony for Vanessa Willock and Misty Pascottini because of the state’s interest in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Once one offers a service publicly, they must do so without impermissible exception,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, plaintiff could refuse to photograph animals or even small children, just as an architect could design only commercial buildings and not private residences. Neither animals, nor small children, nor private residences are protected classes,” he wrote.
Homosexuals, however, the opinion noted, have been given that special protection.
The decision by the judge seemed to substantiate the concerns of opponents of a federal “hate crimes” bill signed into law by President Obama that gives homosexuals special rights. Attorney General Eric Holder admitted in a congressional hearing that under the measure an attack on a homosexual would be dealt with differently than one on another citizen.
Nor are the photographers protected by the U.S. and state constitutions, the judge found. He dismissed concerns that the Christian photographer now could be required to attend lesbian ceremonies that violate her Christian beliefs.
“The only requirement is that she photograph the event,” he said.
“The commission’s decision demonstrated striking disregard for our client’s rights as protected by the First Amendment. We will appeal the trial court’s decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals,” Lorence confirmed.
The case developed in 2006 when Willock asked Elaine Huguenin, co-owner with her husband, Jon Huguenin, of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, to photograph a “ceremony” that Willock and another woman wanted to hold in Taos. Neither marriage nor civil unions are legal between members of the same sex in New Mexico.
Elaine Huguenin declined because her and her husband’s Christian beliefs are in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony. Willock followed up with a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission accusing Elane Photography of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The commission held a one-day trial and then issued an order in April 2008 finding that Elane Photography engaged in “sexual orientation” discrimination prohibited under state law, ordering it to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to Willock.
But WND just days ago reported on the appellate-level decision in Canada that overturned a penalty against a pastor over his alleged discrimination against homosexuals in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
The lawyer who handled that years-long battle by Pastor Stephen Boissoin over “hate speech” charges now is forecasting a nationwide “witch hunt” in the U.S. prompted by the very “hate crimes” law signed by President Obama.
Gerald Chipeur, who supervises law offices across Canada, worked from his Calgary headquarters on the defense of Boissoin, who was accused by a university professor of instigating hate against homosexuals with his letter to the editor.
As WND reported, an appellate court in Canada recently reversed the decision by an administrative judge that Boissoin was to pay $5,000 and give a written apology to the professor.
Chipeur told WND the damage to religious liberties from the case was immediate and dramatic and continues even though the decision has been overturned.
“I had church pastors, church-school principals, board members coming to me for legal advice [when the case erupted],” he said. “They were saying, ‘What should we do about our statement of faith, our bylaws, our policies. Should we just completely repeal them so that we won’t have people offended?'”
Chipeur said his advice was for organizations to “tell the truth as you see it from the Bible” and the law firm’s job was to defend that right.
“Even though I gave them that advice, many pulled punches,” he said. “They reversed policies, they buried their statements of faith, ran for the hills. They tried to do everything they could.”
Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, agreed with the damage assessment.
“Homosexuals got exactly what they wanted. In the marketplace of ideas, one side has now been censored,” he said. “This [situation] is exactly what homosexual activists have in mind.”
That damage – the suppression of religious beliefs because of the intimidating effect of the lawsuit – continues today, Chipeur said.
“I can tell you there was significant damage from the decision. People continue to be afraid. People aren’t going to feel safe overnight. That was the impact of the decision. Christians became afraid,” he said.
“They’re only human. They were frightened. They acted upon that fear, and started to reverse policies that had been in place forever,” he said.
Chipeur said he expects the same issues now to be raised in the U.S., because of the expanded “hate crimes” law signed by Obama.
“I would be shocked if you did not have 100 times more problems with this legislation than we are. Your system is set up to encourage lawyers to do this, and you have so many more people, there is more opportunity for people to take offense,” he said.
“There are certain people in society who look to the government for everything, including to help them with their hurt feelings. The government was never made for that,” he said.
Regardless, “there are those who want the government to bless their approach to life, whatever it is, because they have this view. They come to the point they want the government to say … you are right.”
“We’ve learned from history that’s a very bad idea. You get persecution, which is exactly what’s happening here,” he said.
Then those interests want the “power of the state to punish anyone who disagrees,” he said. The result is “doing exactly what we did 500 years ago. They will be going on a witch hunt, [repeating] the Spanish Inquisition.”
“This is not theoretical. We’ve already seen it, hospitals, school boards, religious organizations pummeled with this. There are board meetings going on as we speak … talking about what they can do to avoid having complaints,” he said.
Obama signed the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” in October after Democrats strategically attached it to a “must-pass” $680 billion defense-appropriations bill.
The law cracks down on any acts that could be linked to criticism of homosexuality or even the “perception” of homosexuality. As Congress debated it, there were assurances it would not be used to crack down on speech. But with the law only weeks old, it has yet to be tested in court.