Religious liberty: Where we’re headed

By Andrew T. Walker
Aug 23, 2013

A ruling yesterday in New Mexico is a strong indication of where religious liberty is headed in the years to come. And that future isn’t necessary bright.

In a saga that began in 2006 and was settled on August 22, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court sided with a lesbian couple in their complaint against Christian photographers who refused to photograph the lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

The owner of Elane Photography, Elaine Huguenin, had no issue with photographing gay and lesbian customers. However, she would not be coercively forced to use her creative talents to photograph a ceremony that conflicts with her sincerely held religious beliefs.

Feeling discriminated against, the lesbian couple found alterative photographers, but not before taking their complaint to New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission.

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission found that Elane Photography had indeed unlawfully discriminated against the lesbian couple based on their sexual orientation, a class protected in New Mexico non-discrimination law.

Huguenin’s case was litigated at two lower courts, losing each time, before making its way to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The question at stake was always this: Which would gain the upper hand? Religious liberty or non-discrimination ordinances that distinguish homosexuals as a protect class?

Yesterday, that answer came.

In the first adjudicated case of its nature, the Supreme Court decided that religious liberty is to be subordinated, or made inferior, to the sexual orientation.

Similar cases are pending in Colorado and Washington State.

Jordan Lorence, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who defended the Huguenins, issued the following statement after the ruling:

Decisions like this undermine the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we have all taken for granted. America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled by the government to express ideas and messages they decline to support. We are considering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to right this wrong.

According to a Rasmussen poll, 85% of Americans think a Christian photographer should be able to refuse to their services if asked to photograph a same-sex wedding.

Despite New Mexico having its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Supreme Court decided that the right to refuse a service based on religious grounds is not a sufficient basis to be excluded from New Mexico non-discrimination law.

The message sent by the New Mexico Supreme Court is one that, for now, requires business owners to act against their desire to practice their business in accordance with their faith.

The concurring opinion offered by Justice Bosson signals the broader cultural themes of the case:

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.

According to Justice Bossom, citizenship comes at a price. But so does a cross. To dignify the cross may mean we become less dignified in the eyes of our neighbors, and this happening at breakneck speed.

Christians are entering a new era in America. The moral revolution is more past tense than present tense.

But our knees shouldn’t be buckling or our fists clenched.

Christians should advocate for their rights on the basis of their earthly citizenship (Acts 25:1-27), but they shouldn’t be surprised when culture rejects them (Matt. 10:14).

We can hang our shoulders in despair at Christendom’s unraveling. Or, understanding that Christianity was never promised nor premised upon cultural privilege, we can get busy and stay busy doing what we’ve been doing the past 2000 years: Preaching that every kingdom is subject to the coming Kingdom, announcing what can never cause us to despair: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World” (John 1:29).

Further Learning

Learn more about: Family, Sexual Purity, Homosexuality, Citizenship, Religious Liberty,

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