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Just weeks after Judge Tim L. Garcia in the New Mexico Court of Appeals said states can require Christians to violate their faith to do business, the justices on the state Supreme Court have agreed to review the dispute between a lesbian and a photographer.
In a procedural notification signed by Joey D. Moya, the chief clerk of the New Mexico Supreme Court, the owners of Elane Photography and Vanessa Willock were told of the next step in the long-standing case, a schedule for briefs to be filed with the high court.
At issue is the demand from Willock and her then-partner that Elane Photography, owned and operated by Christians, provide their artistic talents for a same-sex commitment ceremony, even though the state does not recognize either civil unions or “marriage” between parties of the same sex.
The photographer company declined, based on its owners’ Christian beliefs, and Willock brought a discrimination complaint, which was upheld at lower levels in the court system.
“Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom. “We trust the New Mexico Supreme Court will agree because the government should not be allowed to force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience.
“The Constitution clearly prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to advance a message with which they disagree,” he said.
The ADF had appealed the decision from Garcia that affirmed the decision of the state Human Rights Commission, which had ruled against the Christian photographer who runs her business with her husband.
The commission ruled that the company was guilty of “sexual orientation” discrimination under state anti-discrimination laws.
The case erupted in 2006 after Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin – co-owner with her husband, Jon Huguenin, of Elane Photography in Albuquerque – to photograph a “commitment ceremony” that Willock and another woman wanted to hold in Taos.
Elaine Huguenin declined, and the woman found someone else. The decision by the photographer came because the ceremony would have been in violation of her religious faith.
Willock then took the complaint to the Human Rights Commission, which held a one-day trial and ordered in 2008 that the photographer pay more than $6,600 in attorneys’ fees to Willock.
The lower court explained in a 45-page opinion that a photographer is a “public accommodation” and must comply with “sexual orientation” nondiscrimination laws.
“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 governmental interests,” the lower court wrote.
The district court decision had come from Alan M. Malott.
Malott’s ruling said the Christian owners were compelled to photograph the ceremony for 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 originally on the case 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.
When the district judge’s decision arrived, it seemed to substantiate the concerns of opponents of a federal “hate crimes” bill signed into law by President Obama during his first year in office 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.
Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, noted at that time, “Homosexuals got exactly what they wanted. In the marketplace of ideas, one side has now been censored. This [situation] is exactly what homosexual activists have in mind.”
Interestingly, a subsequent poll revealed that almost half of Americans believe that Christians in the United States are being persecuted by homosexual “marriage” advocates who take legal action against them over their religious beliefs, and almost one in three Democrats believes such persecution is “necessary,” according to the alarming results of a poll.
The results are from a WND/WENZEL Poll conducted for WND by the public-opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies.
It found that 49.2 percent of all respondents consider the legal activism against Christians and their beliefs regarding homosexuality to be “persecution.”
The question was, “There is a trend developing in which gay activists are filing lawsuits against people who refuse to do business with them on moral/religious grounds – such as when a New Mexico photographer was sued by a lesbian couple for refusing to photograph their wedding. Knowing this, which of the following statements most closely represents what you think about this?”
More than two of three Republicans called it “persecution of Christians,” along with 45 percent of independents. Even 33.1 percent of Democrats had the same answer.
But 31 percent of Democrats, as well as 12 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of independents, said, “Such tactics are necessary.”