What Rights Religion?

Tolerance A One-Way Street

Posted: August 28, 2013

New Mexico is far, far away from Virginia — and from most every other place in these United States — but a recent decision by that state’s Supreme Court may have a ripple effect touching every corner of the nation.

The case involved a lawsuit brought by a certain Vanessa Willock against a photography studio owned by Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin. Ms. Willock is a lesbian. The Huguenins are orthodox Christians.

The specifics of the case are these: Seven years ago, Ms. Willock asked the Huguenins to photograph her “commitment ceremony” in the town of Taos. Mrs. Huguenin declined the job, stating that participation in this ceremony went against her Christian beliefs. Ms. Willock found another photographer to take the pictures — and at a cheaper rate.

Case closed? Not by a long shot. Ms. Willock filed a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission on the grounds that the Huguenins’ refusal to shoot the ceremony amounted to discrimination and, thus, violated New Mexico’s Human Rights Act. On Thursday, the state’s Supreme Court found in favor of Ms. Willock and her partner.

In an opinion that should send shivers up the collective spine of all people of faith — regardless of deity, denomination, or sect — Justice Richard Bosson said accommodation and “compromise” were “the price of citizenship.”

“That compromise,” the justice wrote, “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 . . .”

Observe, if you will in this instance, that “tolerance” is a one-way street. The Huguenins are compelled to ignore a millennia-old article of faith — that marriage is the union of a man and a woman — while Ms. Willock is under no obligation to “accommodate” the beliefs of people with whom she has a disagreement. Whither religious freedom?

This court case illustrates, yet again, the extent to which this nation has placed religious rights on a collision course with agendas of the moment, whether it be same-sex marriage or the right to cheap contraception. And those agendas are running roughshod over religious liberty.

Is it possible that some people hide ill intent — bigotry, homophobia, et al — behind a shield of religious freedom? Yes, it is possible, but difficult to unmask. Only deep within the heart and soul do a person’s true motivations reside. But this much we can say with a great degree of certainty: Folks like the Huguenins, whom President Obama might deride as “bitter clingers,” are hardly outliers, some rare breed. For instance, a recent Rasmussen survey determined that 85 percent of Americans — i.e., men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, conservatives, moderates, and even a goodly number of liberals — support the notion that people of faith, acting in good conscience, can withhold goods and services to same-sex ceremonies.

It’s precisely here, in our opinion, that Justice Bosson’s reasoning goes awry. Not only does religious liberty reside at the core of our founding — enshrined in the Bill of Rights as one of the “unalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence — but so, too, freedom of association. No person should be compelled to choose between God and Caesar, their livelihood and their immortal soul — especially when the service demanded of them is readily available elsewhere.

Discrimination? For all Justice Bosson’s efforts to cast it as such, this is hardly a civil-rights issue, a back-of-the-bus situation, an instance of segregated lunch counters. And Ms. Willock is no Rosa Parks.

Trusting that folks can discern the difference, we hope this misguided decision galvanizes Americans’ attention to the serious threat this case underscores. As Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council observed, “Rather than live and let live, this is forcing religious Americans to violate the basic teachings of their faith, or lose their jobs.”

In crafting the Bill of Rights, the Framers, we dare say, envisioned no such Hobson’s choice. Their “path to citizenship” contained no such forks in the road.

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