In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin, who co-owns Elane Photography in Albuquerque with her husband, Jonathan, to photograph a “commitment ceremony” that Willock and Misty Pascottini wanted to hold in Taos. Rather than saying that she was unavailable on that date, Ms. Huguenin declined because of her Christian beliefs. She believed that their Christian faith was in conflict with the message communicated by such a “ceremony.” Willock and Pascottini found another photographer, but nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission accusing Elane Photography of discrimination. The Commission held a one-day hearing, issued an order finding that Elaine had engaged in “sexual orientation” discrimination, and ordered the Huguenins pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to the two lesbians. The Huguenins appealed this decision all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which issued its ruling last Thursday against the Huguenins. In its ruling, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez held that a photographer who declines to use her artistic expression to communicate the story of a same-sex ceremony is obligated to do so. (I wonder whether the outcome would have been the same had it been a Moslem photographer? Just asking.) New Mexico does not allow homosexual marriage and Justice Chavez’ opinion acknowledged that providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian’s sincerely-held, traditional beliefs.
In a concurrence accompanying the opinion, Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote that the photographer and her husband, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.” (Emphasis added.) Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote:
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.
Thus, Justice Bosson says that the photographer cannot use the “conduct” of the lesbians to decide whether to take photographs, but without irony, uses the “conduct” of the photographer to rule against her. In response to the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, whose organization represented the Huguenins, rightly said:
Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country. The idea that free people can be ‘compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives’ as the ‘price of citizenship’ is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom. Americans are now on notice that the price of doing business is their freedom.
Justices of the New Mexico’s Supreme Court are elected, and then a retention election is held after they are elected. Perhaps my readers who reside in New Mexico might like to work to turn these so-called “justices” out of office as soon as possible. (Justice Chavez’s judicial term, for example, ends December 31, 2014.)
I suppose that there has always been a pull by the culture to force devout Christian believers to compromise their faith and beliefs. After all, beliefs lead to actions. But as Christians we are instructed to be both salt and light to those around us. The great saint Polycarp of Smyrna (69 – 155 A.D.) has much to teach us about compromise in response to state compulsion. St. Polycarp refused to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. You can imagine some of the people around him saying: “you have to compromise….after all, burning the incense means nothing….it is such a small thing and only takes a moment….it is just part of being a citizen of the Roman Empire….after all, did not Jesus teach to give to God what is God, and to give Caesar what is Caesar’s?…..don’t be so stubborn…no one will even know….if you don’t compromise, you will selfishly put the lives of other Christians at risk…..you can do so much more good as a living bishop than as a dead one….no one will respect or love you any less.” I am sure you can imagine all such satanic talk from those around him, with much of it sincere. However, St. Polycarp is recorded on the day of his martyrdom as saying, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.” And with that, St. Polycarp was burned at the stake.
Our Orthodox brethren have several hymns inspired by the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. One Troparion praises St. Polycarp in pertinent part as follows:
. . . by teaching the word of truth without error,
you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood.
Further, in a Kontakion, St. Polycarp is praised as follows:
Through virtues, you offered spiritual fruit to the Lord,
Therefore, you were glorified as a worthy hierarch, wise Polycarp.
Today, we who have been enlightened by your words
Extol in song your praise-worthy memory,
Thereby giving glory to the Lord.
In our American society, Christians are taught by many church leaders to be “nice” and even winsome, and never to appear mean. But enemies of the cross of Christ regularly point to Christians as filled with hate and mean-spiritedness. But that is merely one refuge of the haters of God. If you have traveled in other parts of the world, you know that being “nice” is not a high priority for Christian believers in other lands. Rather, the strength and boldness of their witness to the glorious things of God is by being true salt and light, and to eschew compromise with the world or the things of the world as they boldly and fearlessly proclaim God’s Holy Word. Salt used to kill bacteria in wounds does cause discomfort and pain, and the Gospel message causes sinners great discomfort and pain. Light also disinfects from disease. As you may recall, Jesus was not always “nice.” Although He was always loving, but could be viewed as being “mean” when He spoke the truth about the hypocrisy of religious leaders of His day. Jesus was not “nice” when He overturned the tables of the money-changers. He did not seek to engage them in dialogue about the deeper meaning of currency policy, justice and righteousness, and why it was inappropriate to cheat pilgrims, widows and orphans. Rather, He told them to get their filth and depravity out of His Father’s holy house. As a result, the institutions of influence in His day sought to kill Christ. Christians in other countries know that there is a cost to following Christ, but also recognize that today’s cost is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8. May we be found worthy in responding to the pull of compromise in our world, enlightened by the words of St. Polycarp, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.” May God continue to bless richly the Huguenins, and those who labor to defend them. Please continue to pray for them.