A Sad Day for Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock.  In legal parlance, they denied cert.  This means that the New Mexico Supreme Court opinion stands, which makes this a very sad day for the cause of religious liberty.

Elane Photography, LLC refused to photograph a homosexual commitment ceremony on the grounds that it violated their religious liberty and free speech rights.   Their argument had nothing to do with whether someone could legally practice homosexuality or celebrate it in some type of marriage-like ceremony.  Rather, they simply argued that they had the right to refuse to photograph such a ceremony due to the fact that it would violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs to do so.  It is a liberty-based argument, i.e., I shouldn’t be forced by the government to do things that violate my conscience.

The New Mexico Supreme Court, based upon the state’s anti-discrimination laws, disagreed.  The concurring opinion is sympathetic to Huguenins (the owners of Elane Photogrpahy, LLC), and therefore all the more chilling in its conclusions.  Basically, the court says that sincerely-held religious beliefs must be checked at the door when one enters the realm of commerce, and this Kantian separation of religious beliefs from the rest of life, particularly the public square, is a price of citizenship.  Here are the justice’s actual words:

All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.
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.
Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53, 79-80, (N.M. 2013), cert. denied, 2014 WL 1343625 (U.S. Apr. 7, 2014).  Since the Supreme Court refused cert., the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling stands, and the Huguenins options are:
  1. stay in business and check your deeply- and sincerely-held religious beliefs at the door (in other words, act as if you don’t hold those beliefs),
  2. be denied access to the economic marketplace (by the force of the civil magistrate via fines, etc. for failure to check your religious beliefs at the door), or
  3. suffer banishment (by being forced to leave the state of New Mexico in order to find a place where one can hold and act upon one’s beliefs while also making a living by plying one’s trade.)
Somehow I thought religious liberty meant a bit more than you may believe and do whatever you like in your personal life just so long as it doesn’t enter into your civic life.  But, the New Mexico Supreme Court opinion and the the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of cert. on that opinion are just the logical outworking of the Kantian secular-sacred distinction, which, sadly, most Americans, including most Christians, accepted long ago.  Ideas have consequences, and those consequences will very likely be coming soon to a state, city, or county near you.