When Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography turned down a request from a potential client, they had little idea that they were walking into the center of a firestorm.
Because of her sincerely held beliefs about marriage, Elaine declined to use her artistic talents to celebrate and promote a same-sex ceremony for Vanessa Willock. Although Willock easily found another photographer to do the job, she nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which issued an order for Elaine and Jonathan to pay $6,637 to the two women who filed the complaint.
After we appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court on behalf of the Huguenins, the court ruled against them last August. While the ruling itself was shocking, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case came in a written opinion from one of the justices. He wrote that compelling the Huguenins to violate their deeply held religious beliefs on the definition of marriage was simply “the price of citizenship.”
There have been many governments throughout history that demanded its citizens compromise their deeply held beliefs. The word for those governments is “tyranny.”
Just a pinch of incense
Perhaps the most famous example of this is the persecution of Christians in Ancient Rome. During periods of persecution, Christians could escape death if they would only offer a pinch of incense to the statue of Caesar and utter the words, “Caesar is lord.” Denying Christ was the price of citizenship. Or in this case the price of staying alive.
Who would have thought that in America Christians are now expected to “offer their pinch of incense to Caesar” to avoid punishment?
But we have a state Supreme Court justice saying that being compelled to violate one’s deepest held religious beliefs is simply “the price of citizenship.”
It may not seem like a penalty of $6,637 is a significant thing. (I assure you that to a small, owner-operated photography studio, it IS a significant amount of money.)
Romans, I’m sure downplayed Caesar’s edict and urged their Christian neighbors to compromise their faith. “It’s just a pinch of incense, what’s the problem? It’s just the price of Roman citizenship.”
But be assured of this: A government that claims the power to compel you to violate your religious beliefs or pay a fine is not that far away from a government that compels you to violate your religious beliefs at the pain of death.
Religious freedom is given to us by God. That freedom is protected by the Constitution in the First Amendment, which states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion
And yet, just this year we have a state Supreme Court justice saying plainly that your freedom of religion CAN be abridged as “the price of citizenship.”
God, protect us from the arrogance of governments that put themselves in your place.