ELAINE and JON'S STORY
Photography is Elaine’s artistic lens. She crafts and shapes the moments that become memories through the photo stories she creates. Her art is so much a part of her that there are some stories she just can’t tell.
In 2006, Elaine Huguenin and co-owner husband, Jonathan, of Elane Photography, were asked to help a lesbian couple “celebrate their commitment ceremony” by photographing the event. After wrestling with the request, Elaine respectfully declined to participate, explaining that their Christian beliefs were in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony. Neither same-sex “marriage” nor civil unions even existed in New Mexico at the time.
The lesbian couple quickly and easily found another photographer for a lower rate, yet still filed a complaint accusing Elane Photography of “sexual orientation discrimination.” The Huguenins contacted Alliance Defending Freedom, and our lawyers defended Elane Photography at the hearing before the Human Rights Commission.
The Commission found Elane Photography guilty of discrimination, and ordered them to pay nearly seven thousand dollars to the two women. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys appealed, but in a chilling and harsh decision last August, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling. In a concurring opinion, one justice wrote that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” as “the price of citizenship.”
Because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her case, the disastrous ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court stands.
Elaine had no issue taking portraits or photos of the women in other contexts.
Elaine declined other clients in the past that they felt would violate their faith, like nude maternity photos, and gory still shots to promote a horror movie.
This case impacts every citizen’s freedom to speak, or not to speak, without fear of government punishment.
THE BIG PICTURE: CAN THE GOVERNMENT TELL YOU WHAT TO SAY?
At the heart of the First Amendment lies the principle that each person should decide
for himself or herself the ideas and beliefs deserving of expression...
- Chief Justice John Roberts, in the 2013 case of Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Society
The First Amendment right to freedom of speech “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking.” This “right to refrain from speaking” guarantees that the government cannot tell its citizens what they can and can’t say, or force them to express a positive message about something they believe is morally wrong.
Here, however, the New Mexico Supreme Court ignored the First Amendment in order to force Elaine Huguenin to create messages contrary to her religious beliefs.
The NM Supreme Court even claimed that the constitutionally-protected right to free speech shouldn’t protect other professionals who create messages through their work - such as marketers, advertisers, videographers, website designers - from being forced to create any message demanded by a paying customer.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take her case, the freedom of all conscientious professionals - no matter what they believe –is in jeopardy.
- Should a photographer in a same-sex relationship be forced by the government to take photos to promote a conservative local church’s marriage conference?
- Should a Democrat baker be forced to make a Ronald Reagan cake celebrating the Republican National Convention?
If any of the above choose to do it, that’s one thing. The question here is whether the government can FORCE them to do it.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
- The human dignity of artists to express themselves in their work, without punishment from the government for refusing to express messages they disagree with.
- The free speech of Americans to refuse to promote a message with which they disagree.
- The freedom of all creative business owners to choose what messages they will express through their work, without punishment from the government.
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Although Jon and Elaine’s long trial is over, their courageous journey has not been in vain. Many others are facing similar struggles right now, like Arlene’s Flowers and Masterpiece Cake Shop. For the moment, one state has gotten it wrong, but with your help, Alliance Defending Freedom will continue the legal defense of these others across the nation so that no matter how long it takes - ultimately, freedom wins. Right now, a generous matching grant doubles your impact.
- Watch Alliance Defending Freedom interview after NM Sup Ct decision: Watch the Video
- Case docs & summary page: Elane Photography v. Willock
- Rasmussen poll: "85% Think Christian Photographer Has Right to Turn Down Same-Sex Wedding Job"
- Article: "It is the Price of Citizenship"?—An Elegy for Religious Liberty in America
- Article: Will Religious Liberty Survive Same-Sex Marriage?
- RELATED CASE: Watch the story of our client, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers. Watch the Video