Jon and Elaine Huguenin
If pictures are worth a thousand words, does a photographer have the right to determine the message of the ones they take?
In 2006, Elaine Huguenin, a sought-after wedding photographer in New Mexico, received an inquiry from Vanessa Wilcox to photograph her civil-union same-sex ceremony. Elaine respectfully declined. She and her husband, Jon, couldn’t in good conscience use their artistic expression to tell the story of a same-sex ceremony that conflicted with their faith. Vanessa found another photographer, but nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The commission ordered Elaine and Jonathan to pay $6,637 to the women who filed the complaint.
The Huguenins started calling lawyers, and Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom was the first to respond. He told them that Alliance Defending Freedom would take their case and cover all the costs, but they were in for a long, hard haul. “This could be big, guys,” he told them. “This could go as far as the Supreme Court. Are you prepared to take it to that level?”
Jon and Elaine committed to seeing it through, even after they found out Elaine was pregnant. Despite the stress of media attention, hate mail, and even threats, the Huguenins believe this happened to them for a reason. “If we win, Christians will be able to stick by their religious values. They’ll be able to feel like they’re still backed by the First Amendment. I feel like that’s really a question right now… It’s been a trial, literally and figuratively,” Elaine said. “It’s been something that has brought us a lot closer to God. Although nobody in their right mind would ask for a trial, the fact that we’ve been able to grow through this has been really… encouraging.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on August 22, 2013 against Jon and Elaine, stating that they are “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.” Jordan Lorence’s prediction proved correct: on November 8th, 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case.
Although the Supreme Court reviewed the case at three of its conferences, it decided to deny review of the case on April 7, 2014.
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Elane Photography v. Willock
What's at stake
- The ability of business owners and artistic professionals to express themselves without government coercion to express views with which they disagree
- The freedom of business owners and artistic professionals to decline to create expression that violates their religious beliefs without being punished by the government.
Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, declined the offer to photograph Vanessa Willock’s same-sex commitment ceremony because the Huguenins could not in good conscience tell the story of a ceremony that defined marriage other than one man and one woman. Ms. Willock was able to find another photographer at a cheaper rate, but that was not enough. Ms. Willock filed a complaint against Jon and Elaine’s company, Elane Photography, with the State of New Mexico. In response, Elaine and Jonathan called Alliance Defending Freedom and asked for help.
The New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled against the company, finding that it had engage in sexual-orientation discrimination in violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The Commission ordered Elane Photography to pay nearly $7,000 in attorneys’ fees. Two state courts upheld the ruling. Alliance Defending Freedom took the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The court ruled against Elane Photography, and rejected its compelled speech defense and religious liberty claims. In a concurring opinion, one of the justices stated that government compulsion to create expression a business owner disagrees with was “the price of citizenship.”
Alliance Defending Freedom asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, but the Court denied review on April 7, 2014.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented Elane Photography and defended Elaine and Jonathan’s freedom to decide which ideas they would express with their photographic talents.
If not for these free services, the financial costs of defending themselves in court for nearly seven years would have been catastrophic to the Huguenins. Please help us defend others like them with a financial contribution.