By Greg Scott
Greg Scott, new blogger at ‘The Edge,’ takes a three-part look at what a court case in New Mexico means for Christians entering a confused marketplace that is waging battle with religious liberty and gender. Part 2 will run August 29th and the final installment on September 2nd.
Getting the Picture
In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Albuquerque photographer Elaine Huguenin to help “celebrate” Willock’s and her same-sex partner’s “commitment ceremony.” Huguenin politely declined. Huguenin is a Christian who could not promote a message about the meaning of marriage through her photographic art that conflicted with her faith.
Willock easily found another photographer, whose work she liked and who charged a lower fee. Willock nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission accusing the family business, Elane Photography, of “sexual orientation discrimination.”
The commission held a one-day trial in January 2008, issuing an order several months later finding that Elane Photography violated the state antidiscrimination law. The commission ordered Elane Photography to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to the same-sex couple.
The case wended through the New Mexico court system before its alarming conclusion Aug. 22. The state’s high court ruled unanimously against the young photographer, upholding the discrimination charge. The final paragraphs on the last page of the opinion, from the concurrence, are most ominous. In part, they read:
“…the Huguenins…now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views…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…[T]he 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.”
Just Justice No More
Whoa, right? This paean to “tolerance” and “respect” is contained – irony unintended – in a document written explicitly to declare the state’s intolerance and disrespect for citizens who reject the state’s orthodoxy. We can tolerate contradiction and double standards in private life. But when the sword-wielding government employs such dubious reasoning to inflict a “tangible mark” on one citizen in order to “leave space” for another – who suffered no harm – the justice system is no longer just.
But how much should the result in this one case concern American Christians? Is this just “Next Top Martyr,” scare-the-kids fundraising hype by the “Christian Right” based on an isolated incident? Hardly.
I understand the obligation in Christian conversation to qualify concerns about the future freedom to publicly practice and proclaim our faith in America. Yes, our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and China face significantly higher risk of bodily harm, even death, for more modest expressions of faith than those still permitted in the US. But let’s not be blind and believe “it can never happen here.”
Here is Where it is Happening
No, we won’t be Nero’s Torches tomorrow. But “it” is happening here. Unless the present trajectory is contained swiftly, free expression of orthodox Christian teaching, once muscularly guarded by the First Amendment, will become a criminal act. The Elane Photography case, which Alliance Defending Freedom is considering appealing to the Supreme Court, is one pushpin in a grim and growing constellation.
Consider a small sample:
So, what are the Gospel implications of this “new normal” and how should Christians respond? My next several posts will cover that ground.
Greg Scott is Senior Director of Media Relations at Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, Ariz. He previously served 10 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps, most recently as a Public Affairs Officer at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
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