Cherished American values are under attack in New Mexico, where the state Supreme Court there ruled Thursday that a group of activists should be free to bully business owners into violating their religious beliefs.
All five of the court's justices told Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, that she had no choice but to provide wedding photography services for the "commitment ceremony" of any homosexual couple that asks.
They ruled that Mrs. Huguenin had run afoul of the law when she turned away a lesbian couple, forcing them to look elsewhere to find someone to snap some photos. Matters should have ended when the couple found a willing photographer, but we live in a society and culture accustomed to seeking judicial redress for the most minor of inconvenience. Here the aggrieved customer, to whom no actual damage was done, filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission accusing Elane Photography of discrimination based on "sexual orientation."
The complainant wasn't seeking a job at Elane Photography. She wanted to buy a particular service, and the seller declined. Such proposed transactions are refused thousands of times daily for a variety of reasons: a provider may have a scheduling conflict or the price offered may be too low. Often, the "Gosh, I'd love to, but I'm all booked up" excuse is offered as a polite way of saying a firm would just rather not accept that assignment.
It makes sense for a business to sell as much of its products or services to as many people as want them, but if a baker decides, for example, to sell only 12 loaves of rye bread a day, that's his choice. There's no need for the government to step in and dictate the terms of sale.
Important issues of religious freedom can be at stake when bureaucrats intervene in the marketplace. A kosher butcher should not be required by the state to handle and sell pork products because one customer has a craving for bacon. A Hindu grocer, professing vegetarianism, shouldn't have government come in and decree he must sell steaks and chicken to committed carnivores.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Richard C. Bosson peddled his judicial activism as an act of compassion and the price of citizenship. "At its heart," he wrote, "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."
Mrs. Huguenin's attorney, Jordan Lorence with the Alliance Defending Freedom, found the court's reasoning to be dangerous. "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," he said after the verdict. "Americans are now on notice that the price of doing business is their freedom."
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is needed to overturn this misguided ruling and restore the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Compromise and tolerance shouldn't apply exclusively to customers whose sole gripe is a momentary rebuff. Activist groups shouldn't be able to impose their views on the rest of society simply because they're able to come up with the noisiest protests and most determined lawsuits. Judges must not lose sight of the moral and religious views of business owners. That, too, is the price of citizenship in a free society.
The Washington Times