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The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect the owners of a photography studio who refused, because of their Christians beliefs, to serve a lesbian couple.
Jon and Elaine Hugunin of Albuquerque, the court said, “can no more turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation – photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony – than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims.”
The stunning verdict came in a case brought by lesbians against Elane Photography. The lesbians wanted the photographer to document their “wedding,” and the studio declined, claiming it would violate the Christian faith of the owners.
New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law, which provides special protections for homosexuals, “does not even require Elane Photography to take photographs,” the ruling argues.
“The NMHRA only mandates that if Elane Photography operates a business as a public accommodation, it cannot discriminate against potential clients based on their sexual orientation,” the court said.
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, whose organization worked on the case, said government-coerced expression “is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country.”
“This decision is a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free,” he said.
Lorence said decisions “like this undermine the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we have all taken for granted.”
“America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled by the government to express ideas and messages they decline to support,” he said.
“We are considering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to right this wrong.”
The judges stated:
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.
The case erupted in 2006 after Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin to photograph a “commitment ceremony” that Willock and another woman wanted to hold in Taos.
Elaine Huguenin declined, because of her Christian beliefs, and the woman found someone else.
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 came from Alan M. Malott.
Malott ruled 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.
He pointed out that the photographers could not decline to photograph lesbians but could decline to photograph other subjects, because of the state’s rules.
“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,” the judge said.
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.”
A subsequent poll revealed that almost half of Americans believe Christians in the United States are being persecuted by same-sex marriage advocates who take legal action against them over their religious beliefs. Almost one in three Democrats believes such persecution is “necessary,” according to the 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.”