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Too High a Price for Citizenship: Eviscerating Religious Freedom

Seven years ago, Vanessa Wilcock asked Elane Photography in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to photograph the commitment ceremony between her and her same-sex partner.

Elaine Huguenin declined on the grounds that she only photographed traditional, not same-sex weddings. That refusal set in motion a legal battle with serious implications for religious freedom.

Wilcock, despite finding another, cheaper photographer, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that Huguenin had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. That rule was upheld by an appeals court.

Then last week, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appeals court’s ruling.

But even more troubling than the court’s ruling against Huguenin is the reasoning it employed to justify its decision. Every appeal to religious freedom was swept aside as if the phrase “free exercise” did not appear anywhere in the Constitution. In “vindicating” the right of one minority – same-sex couples – the court rendered null the rights of another, namely people of faith who adhere to traditional teachings about sexuality.

According to the court, Elane Photography’s refusal “violated the [law] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.” Thus, it completely overlooked the fact, as Rod Dreher has put it, that “there is a moral dimension to sexual desire and expression” that does not exist when it comes to race or ethnicity.

The court was also uninterested in the distinction Elane Photography appealed to between objecting to a particular action and objecting to a person. The issue was not photographing someone with same-sex attraction, which Elane was willing to do. But they were not willing to endorse a same-sex union by photographing a commitment ceremony.

And still even more troubling was the concurring opinion of justice Richard Bosson. He acknowledged that, under New Mexico law, the Huguenins are “compelled ... to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” He admitted that this compulsion will “leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.”

Nevertheless, this compromise is, according to Bosson, “the price of citizenship.” While the Huguenins are free to believe whatever they want, outside of their home they “have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.”

Bosson called this compromise “part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.”

There are two huge problems with this reasoning. The first is this artificial distinction between belief and conduct. It’s a distinction that is especially ironic coming from a court that wouldn’t countenance a distinction between objecting to a particular sexual orientation and objecting to specific sexual acts.

If what gay people do is inseparable from who they are, then why should Christians be expected to separate creed from deed? It’s a blatant double standard.

Equally blatant is the unspoken assumption that the only people doing the compromising are people of faith. When Huguenin turned down Wilcock’s request, Wilcock, as her contribution to the “glue,” could have said “Well, I’ve found another photographer,” and left it at that. But she didn’t, and no one is lecturing her about the “price of citizenship.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom has promised to appeal the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court, and they should. The precedent it sets eviscerates religious freedom. And if that’s the “price of citizenship,” that's a price far too high.

For more commentary on this truly troubling case and its implications for religious freedom, come to, and click on this commentary.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: August 29, 2013

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