Supreme Court declines to hear religious freedom photography case

Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to weigh in on a case involving a small Christian-owned photography business that declined on religious grounds to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.

The court announced its decision April 7. It did not give a reason for declining to hear the case.

“Only unjust laws separate what people say from what they believe,” said Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography.

“The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment,” he added in an April 7 statement.

“We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system.”

The case, Elane Photography v. Willock, involves the Huguenins' decision not to photograph a New Mexico same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, due to their religious convictions that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. At the time, neither same-sex “marriage” nor civil unions were recognized by New Mexico law.

Elaine Huguenin explained to the couple that participating in the ceremony by photographing it would communicate views she did not espouse, but offered to photograph them in other venues.

In the past, Huguenin has declined other photography jobs that she could not reconcile with her religious beliefs, including nude shoots and gory shots to promote a horror movie.

The same-sex couple then found another photographer who charged a lower rate. However, in 2008, they filed a complaint against Elane Photography for “sexual orientation discrimination.”  

The case was presented to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled in 2009 that the company was guilty of discrimination and must pay nearly $7,000 to the couple.

The Huguenins appealed the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling in August 2013. In his concurring decision, Judge Richard C. Bosson acknowledged that the Christian photographers were being “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” but said that this compromise is “part of the glue that holds us together as a nation” and is “the price of citizenship.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case means that the lower court’s ruling will stand.

Religious freedom advocates have voiced concern over what they see as growing hostility toward anyone who defends marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Numerous lawsuits are currently underway challenging the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs through their business decisions.

David Cortman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said that the owners of Elane Photography and many other marriage defenders “have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are not willing to promote any and all messages.”

“A government that forces any American to create a message contrary to her own convictions is a government every American should fear,” he added.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the high court's decision not to hear the case “deeply disturbing.”

“Does our nation's highest court really believe the price of citizenship is the surrender of conscience?” he asked in an April 7 statement.

“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,” Perkins added.

“These rights do not stop at the exit door of your local church, and instead extend to every area of a religious person's life.”


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