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N.M. court reflects culture’s ‘seismic shift’ to sexuality-based ‘state-established religion’

ALBUQUERQUE (BP) — An attack on religious liberty is evident in the New Mexico Supreme Court’s ruling that two Christian photographers violated the state’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony,” according to several Southern Baptist commentators.

“Anyone who still doubts that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage will represent a seismic shift in the culture at large needs only to look to New Mexico to see that nothing less than religious liberty is now under threat — and in a big way,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in an online column Aug. 26.

Russell D. Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the Aug. 22 ruling “demonstrates, once again, that where we are headed is the state-established religion of sexual liberation, with the law used to steamroll every conscience in the way.”

Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography, were asked in 2006 by Vanessa Willock to photograph her same-sex “commitment ceremony” in the town of Taos. The Huguenins, citing their Christian belief that marriage should be only between a man and woman, declined the request along with a subsequent request by Willock’s partner.

Mohler described the Huguenins as Christians “who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and a woman. They further believe that they are responsible and faithful only if they avoid any explicit or implied endorsement of same-sex marriage.”

Willock found another photographer at a lower price but filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, accusing Elane Photography of discrimination based on her sexual orientation. The Huguenins were found guilty and ordered to pay hefty fines.

According to state Supreme Court Justice Richard Boson, the Constitution protects the rights of the Christian photographers to pray to the God of their choice and follow religious teachings, but he noted that belief and practice are not the same things. Religious liberty, Boson wrote, must be subordinated to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, and that the photographers — and by extension others — are “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”

“The Huguenins today can no more turn away customers on the basis of their sexual orientation — photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony — than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims,” Bosson wrote. “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.”

Compromising religious beliefs is “a price … we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life,” Boson wrote.

Mohler described Bosson’s legal opinion as a blatant error in the traditional understanding of religious liberty, upheld in other cases before other state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, the ruling “points to the comprehensive scope of the moral and legal realignment required by same-sex marriage — and eagerly demanded by its proponents. The addition of sexual orientation as a denominator of a protected class was sufficient to drag the Huguenins before a court in a state that itself does not legally recognize same-sex marriage,” Mohler noted.

“The New Mexico Supreme Court has now made clear that the price to be paid by many is the forfeiture of their religious liberty,” Mohler wrote.

Kelly Boggs, director of public affairs for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and editor of the Baptist Message, wrote in his weekly column on Baptist Press Aug. 23 that the ruling is evidence that the push “to have homosexuality accepted as natural, normal and healthy in the United States knows no compromise. The movement to have homosexuality celebrated in America will not stop, nor will it be satisfied, until all voices that would even whisper it is sinful are squelched.”

Homosexual activists “have long used their free speech right to publicly advocate for their aberrant lifestyle. Many of these same activists now use almost any means possible to restrict the freedom of speech of those who believe their lifestyle is wrong.” Boggs wrote.

The “moment of truth is rapidly approaching” for Christians who believe homosexuality is “an immoral, aberrant behavior,” he wrote.

“The choice will be whether to capitulate to a culture that asserts, without evidence, homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy, or to insist it is sinful and suffer consequences.”

Moore said the church’s appropriate response should not be venting outrage at the decision but rekindling “in our own churches why religious liberty and freedom of conscience are essential for a free church and a free state. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again.”

That sentiment was echoed by Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the ERLC and former policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation. The New Mexico court, he said, has decided that “religious liberty is to be subordinated, or made inferior, to the sexual orientation.”

“Christians are entering a new era in America. The moral revolution is more past tense than present tense,” Walker wrote. “But our knees shouldn’t be buckling or our fists clenched.

“Christians should advocate for their rights on the basis of their earthly citizenship, but they shouldn’t be surprised when culture rejects them,” Walker wrote.

The New Mexico Supreme Court decision also shocked secular policy organizations. In a statement on National Review Online, Ryan Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow for Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, said “the decision highlights the increasing concern many have that anti-discrimination laws and the pressure for same-sex marriage will run roughshod over the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”

Other groups, such as the Cato Institute, The Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom wrote amicus briefs on behalf of Elane Photography, saying that the First Amendment protected the photographers’ free speech rights, while the State of New Mexico’s own Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected the photographers’ free exercise of religion. The court rejected both arguments.
Gregory Tomlin is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Gregory Tomlin