What Christian Photographer Case Says About Future of Religious Liberty

Apr 10, 2014

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This week, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the Elane Photography case. The case concerns a Christian photographer who was told by the New Mexico Supreme Court that she must use her gifts and talents to affirm and participate in a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ that she disagrees with or face punishment by the state.

The case began when Elaine Huguenin kindly declined to photograph a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ (same-sex ‘marriage’ was not legal at that time in New Mexico) because she did want to communicate a message at odds with her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. One of the lesbians that reached out to Elaine, despite easily finding another photographer for the ‘ceremony,’ filed a complaint against Elane Photography under the states ‘anti-discrimination’ law. The New Mexico ‘Human Rights’ Commission ruled against Elane Photography and ordered her to pay thousands of dollars in fines. The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling with one of the justices writing that the photographers are now “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” According to the justice, sacrificing your free expression and freedom of religion are now the “the price of citizenship.”

Outrage from national leaders about this egregious case and its future impact continues to build:

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear and uphold the First Amendment rights of Elaine Huguenin, a wedding photographer, are deeply disturbing. Does our nation’s highest court really believe the price of citizenship is the surrender of conscience?  The New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision to allow a state commission to fine her for acting out her conscience would stun the Framers of the U.S. Constitution and is a gross violation of the First Amendment…The Supreme Court ignored an opportunity to reaffirm the basic principle that the government may not trample on fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion.” – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins

“…At issue is the fundamental question of whether the state can pretend to be a god over the conscience. No one is seeking to outlaw photographers from working at same-sex marriage or civil union ceremonies. At issue is whether these persons will be forced by the coercive power of the state to participate in something they believe to be sinful. The audacity of the New Mexico Supreme Court in saying that the crucifixion of conscience is the price of citizenship is breathtaking. This ruling is more in the spirit of Nero Caesar than in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. This is damaging not only to the conscience rights of Christians, but to all citizens. When we decide, as a country, that state power trumps the rights of conscience, we are treading on self-evident, inalienable rights, granted not by government but by God.” – Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

“Today’s actions by the Supreme Court may unfortunately embolden some to expand their efforts to punish and humiliate publicly those who believe marriage is defined only as one man and one woman. The zealous followers of this ascendant orthodoxy supporting same-sex marriage are falling into the same error that many have stumbled into before them—when you gain power somewhere, punish the “heretics” and hound them to the outskirts of society.”  – Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Jordan Lorence (representing Elane Photography)

The chilling reality of this court case, and other examples like it, must serve as a wakeup call to every Texan that values religious liberty. As national leaders have argued, the burden to protect our inalienable rights and our First Freedoms now falls on state and federal legislators. This case should bolster efforts by states to pass versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that force the government to prove it has a compelling reason to force a person to act against their religious beliefs and further prove that any burdens to religion are done in the least restrictive manner. Just recently, Mississippi passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act similar to the one that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed.

But this case is also a caution that protection at the statutory level is not always enough. Texas has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in statute – just as New Mexico does.  But the New Mexico Supreme Court evidently believes that its “non-discrimination” law trumps the religious liberty protection in statute. The strongest way to ensure that a rogue Texas court never has the opportunity to similarly trample our religious liberty is to secure religious liberty at the highest level we can in Texas – in our state constitution.

That is why we have led efforts to support the Texas Religious Freedom Amendment in past legislative sessions that would secure this important religious liberty protection directly in the Texas Constitution. We must never let our First Freedoms of religion and free expression become the “price of citizenship” in Texas. A government that can force a private individual or business to participate in a ceremony that directly violates their faith is a government that has no bounds on its power. And would forcing a pastor to officiate a same-sex ‘wedding’ really be that far of a leap from the twisted logic in this case?

Without securing our First Freedoms in Texas, all other freedoms we enjoy will surely fall.

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