CASEElane Photography v. Willock

Client Story
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 8
th, 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.

Find out more about marriage and family issues.


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Summary
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Elane Photography and its owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin. In 2006, Elaine received an e-mail from a woman about photographing a “commitment ceremony” between her and her same-sex partner and asking if Elaine would be “open to helping us celebrate our day….” Elaine politely declined to use her artistic expression to communicate a message at odds with her beliefs. The woman who approached Elaine, Vanessa Willock, easily found another photographer for her ceremony—and for less money. Nevertheless, Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. After a one-day administrative trial in 2008, the commission ruled against the Huguenins and ordered them to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to Willock. The case then made its way through the New Mexico state court system, and the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling. In a concurrence accompanying the court’s opinion, one of the justices wrote that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.”
News Releases

Govt punishment of NM photographer stands, compelled speech problem unresolved…for now

Marriage & Family

Govt punishment of NM photographer stands, compelled speech problem unresolved…for now

Other lawsuits concerning govt-forced speech working way through court system

Apr 07, 2014 Read More

US Supreme Court holds off deciding whether to hear NM photographer’s case

Broad support for NM photographer reflected in new briefs filed with US Supreme Court

Marriage & Family

Broad support for NM photographer reflected in new briefs filed with US Supreme Court

Libertarian same-sex marriage supporters among those backing freedom to decline participation in same-sex ceremonies

Dec 16, 2013 Read More

Photographer asks Supreme Court: Is abandoning my freedom the ‘price of citizenship’?

Marriage & Family

Photographer asks Supreme Court: Is abandoning my freedom the ‘price of citizenship’?

Alliance Defending Freedom asks nation’s highest court to reverse unprecedented NM Supreme Court decision

Nov 08, 2013 Read More

NM Supreme Court: Price of citizenship is compromising your beliefs

Marriage & Family

NM Supreme Court: Price of citizenship is compromising your beliefs

State high court issues decision against photographer for acting according to her religious convictions

Aug 22, 2013 Read More

NM Supreme Court to Christians: There is a ‘price’ for your beliefs

Marriage & Family

NM Supreme Court to Christians: There is a ‘price’ for your beliefs

ADF official comment

Aug 22, 2013 Read More

Is artistic freedom in jeopardy?

Marriage & Family

Is artistic freedom in jeopardy?

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney available to media following NM Supreme Court hearing over photographer’s conscience rights

Mar 08, 2013 Read More

NM Supreme Court will hear case of photographer fined for adhering to her faith

Marriage & Family

NM Supreme Court will hear case of photographer fined for adhering to her faith

Human rights commission required artist to pay nearly $7,000 for declining to photograph same-sex ceremony

Aug 17, 2012 Read More

ADF will appeal NM court’s decision against photographer

Marriage & Family

ADF will appeal NM court’s decision against photographer

Human rights commission required artist to pay nearly $7,000 for declining to photograph same-sex ceremony

Jun 04, 2012 Read More

ADF to appeal court decision against NM photographer

Marriage & Family

ADF to appeal court decision against NM photographer

Photo artist told by civil rights commission to pay over $6,600 in attorneys’ fees for declining to photograph same-sex ceremony

Dec 16, 2009 Read More

ADF attorney available to media following hearing in complaint against N.M. photographer

Marriage & Family

ADF attorney available to media following hearing in complaint against N.M. photographer

Christian photographer declined to photograph same-sex “ceremony” based on her beliefs supporting marriage as one man and one woman

Jan 25, 2008 Read More

ADF files suit disputing N.M. commission’s ruling against Christian photographer

Marriage & Family

ADF files suit disputing N.M. commission’s ruling against Christian photographer

Photo artist told to pay over $6,600 in attorneys’ fees for declining to photograph same-sex ceremony

Jul 01, 2008 Read More
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Documents
https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---reply-brief-filed-with-u-s-supreme-court.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---friend-of-the-court-brief-from-cato-institute-dale-carpenter-and-eugene-volokh.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---friend-of-the-court-brief-from-state-attorneys-general.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---petition-for-certiorari-filed-with-u-s-supreme-court.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---new-mexico-supreme-court-opinion.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---petitioner-s-reply-brief.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---nm-supreme-court-amicus-brief-from-wedding-photographers.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---opening-brief.pdf?sfvrsn=4https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---new-mexico-supreme-court-order-for-writ-of-certiorari.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---petition-for-certiorari-to-the-nm-supreme-court.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---appellate-court-opinion.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/elane-photography-v-willock---trial-court-order.pdf?sfvrsn=6
Court Title Date
U.S. Supreme Court
Reply brief filed with U.S. Supreme Court Feb 25 2014
U.S. Supreme Court
Friend-of-the-court brief from Cato Institute Dale Carpenter and Eugene Volokh Dec 13 2013
U.S. Supreme Court
Friend-of-the-court brief from state attorneys general Dec 13 2013
U.S. Supreme Court
Petition for certiorari filed with U.S. Supreme Court Nov 08 2013
State Supreme Court
New Mexico Supreme Court opinion Aug 22 2013
State Supreme Court
Petitioner’s reply brief Jan 23 2013
State Supreme Court
NM Supreme Court amicus brief from wedding photographers Oct 26 2012
State Supreme Court
Opening Brief Oct 19 2012
State Supreme Court
New Mexico Supreme Court order for writ of certiorari Aug 16 2012
State Supreme Court
Petition for certiorari to the NM Supreme Court Jun 27 2012
Appellate Court
Appellate court opinion May 31 2012
Trial Court
Trial court order Dec 11 2009

Commentary

Resources

Audio: Ronald Reagan speech on religion in American public life, Aug. 23, 1984 (The World and Everything In It, 3:59)

Biographies

Media Documents