By Eleanor Linton, PFI Intern

With New Mexico’s Court of Appeals ruling on Tuesday June 5, religious liberties protected by the First Amendment took a severe blow. The Court upheld an opinion from the New Mexico Human Rights Commission that a photography company could not discriminate clients or refuse services centered on religious beliefs.

Photographer Elaine Huguenin

In 2006, Elaine Huguenin was asked by Vanessa Willock to photograph her same-sex commitment ceremony (since same-sex marriage is illegal and not recognized in New Mexico). Several emails between Ms. Willock and Ms. Huguenin show that Ms. Willock wasn’t decided on hiring Ms. Huguenin for her ceremony. Ms. Huguenin, a Christian, respectfully declined, stating that her company photographs “traditional” weddings, between one man and one woman.

Ms. Willock subsequently filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, citing sexual-orientation discrimination. Ms. Huguenin fought the suit, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, but lost. The case brought then before the New Mexico Court of Appeals. In a shocking conclusion, the court ruled in favor of Ms. Willock and her partner (who together went ahead with their commitment ceremony despite having to find another photographer).

The First Amendment protects people of all faiths with the provision that “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” Ms. Huguenin firmly believes that a marriage is between one man and one woman, as ordained by God in the Bible. Her refusal to take the job was not motivated by malevolent feelings, but out of the need to obey her religious beliefs.
Faced with two defeats, Ms. Huguenin could leave the ruling as it stands now. The consequences: not only having to pay for the legal fees of Ms. Willocks, but she would also lose her ability to run her business guided by Christian principles.

“Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, the attorney representing Ms. Huguenin. “Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy? Of course not, and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience. Because the Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to promote a message they disagree with, we will certainly appeal this decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.”