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Christians Squeezed out of Commerce and Public Office: Persecution in New Mexico and Texas

By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

On Thursday, August 22, 2013, five Justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court told Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin they could no longer be wedding photographers because they are Christians who take their faith as a guide for every area of their life. They do not view homosexual or lesbian partnerships as a marriage and act accordingly.  In San Antonio, Texas, Christians are about to be excluded from holding office ar contracting with the City.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (Catholic Online) - On Thursday, August 22, 2013, five Justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court told Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin they could no longer be wedding photographers because they are Christians who take their faith as a guide for every area of their life. They do not view homosexual or lesbian partnerships as a marriage and act accordingly. 

The controversy began in 2006. The Christian married couple own a photography business called Elane Photography which offers wedding photography services to the public. They were approached by a lesbian couple and asked to photograph a lesbian commitment service. They politely refused the offer of business, explaining that their Christian faith would not allow them to do so. New Mexico law, at that time, did not recognize in the law either marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex.

The lesbian couple found another photographer for the ceremony. They lost no money or time in the effort. However, they filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission charging that the refusal violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) and that the refusal constituted sexual orientation discrimination.

The case progressed through the administrative procedure and into the Courts, ending up at the New Mexico Supreme Court. A review of the State Supreme Court opinion reveals that after the photography business declined to offer its services, the events which followed were orchestrated by the lesbian couple in order to set the case up. In 2003 the NMHRA was amended to include those with homosexual, lesbian or any other form of "sexual orientation" beside heterosexual, among its list of protected classes.

The State Supreme Court held that "When Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races. Even if the services it offers are creative or expressive, Elane Photography must offer its services to customers without regard for the customers' race, sex, sexual orientation, or other protected classification."

In a concurring opinion, Judge Beeson added even more disturbing language, addressing the Huguenins religious beliefs:  "As devout, practicing Christians, they believe, as a matter of faith, that certain commands of the Bible are not left open to secular interpretation; they are meant to be obeyed. Among those commands, according to the Huguenins, is an injunction against same-sex marriage.

"On the record before us, no one has questioned the Huguenin's devoutness or their sincerity; their religious convictions deserve our respect. In the words of their legal counsel, the Huguenins "believed that creating photographs telling the story of that event [a same-sex wedding] would express a message contrary to their sincerely held beliefs, and that doing so would disobey God."

He used his judicial office to chastise the Christian couple for acting in fidelity to their deeply held religious convictions:  "There is a lesson here. In a constitutional form of government, personal, religious, and moral beliefs, when acted upon to the detriment of someone else's rights, have constitutional limits. One is free to believe, think and speak as one's conscience, or God, dictates.

"But when actions, even religiously inspired, conflict with other constitutionally protected rights. Their refusal to do business with the same-sex couple in this case, no matter how religiously inspired, was an affront to the legal rights of that couple, the right granted them under New Mexico law to engage in the commercial marketplace free from discrimination."

He finally opined:  "The New Mexico Legislature has made it clear that to discriminate in business on the basis of sexual orientation is just as intolerable as discrimination directed toward race, color, national origin or religion. The Huguenins today 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. All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who 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."

"On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice. 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. I therefore concur."

In other words, committed Christian people who take their faith as a guide for every area of their life, live in New Mexico and want to be wedding photographers - will have to choose another line of work.They are now excluded from participating in that area of commerce if they want to follow their informed conscience and live in accordance with their sincere faith.  

What is next?

What is happening in San Antonio, Texas is next. Christians are about to be excluded from holding office ar contracting with the City. There is an effort underway to amend the sections of the City Code related to public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, city contracts and appointments to city boards and commissions.

The proposed language in the revision to the City code adds sexual orientation, and gender identity as a suspect classification:  "No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability."

The revision also adds this clause: "No appointed official or member of a board or commission shall engage in discrimination or demonstrate a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability, while serving in such public position."

If passed, committed Christians who take their faith as a guide for every area of their life will no longer be able to serve in public office for the City of San Antonio, Texas, or enter into contractual relationships with the City. They will be excluded from public service if they want to follow their informed conscience and live in accordance with their sincere faith.  
 
What is next?

The trend is ominous. We need to expose and oppose it by defending all of the Rights protected by the US Constitution, including the free exercise of religion, the right to free speech, free association and the right to participate in commerce. However, we also need to be aware that morally coherent Christians, who live a unity of life and believe that their faith informs every aspect of their life, are at the beginning of a period of growing persecution. We must pray, band together and act appropriately.

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