Monday, February 25, 2008

An evangelical Christian photographer was brought before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission after she declined for religious reasons to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.

When Elaine Huguenin of Albuquerque, N.M., declined in September 2006 an e-mail request from a lesbian couple to photograph their ceremony, one of the lesbians responded by lodging a human rights complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Division, the state agency charged with enforcing state anti-discrimination laws and sending cases to the commission to be adjudicated.

Vanessa Willock sought an injunction to prohibit Mrs. Huguenin and her business, Elane Photography, from declining any future request to photograph a same-sex ceremony. The agency agreed to hear Miss Willock’s complaint, the latest case brought before tribunals in the U.S. and Canada that free-speech advocates say threaten expression across North America.

Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, a “legal ministry” that is representing the Huguenins and defends religious freedom and traditional values, said that “Elane Photography is basically a husband-and-wife small, little commercial photography business” run by “devout Christians who have a variety of things they don’t want to take pictures of.”

Photography also is a form of artistic expression, Mr. Lorence said, and the First Amendment protects artists like Mrs. Huguenin from being compelled by the state to engage in expression that violates their religious convictions.

The First Amendment “is pretty clear that Christians should not be penalized for abiding by their beliefs,” Mr. Lorence said.

Carrie Moritomo, a public-information officer with the New Mexico Office of Workforce Solutions, would not say whether she considered the case a violation of the Huguenins’ religious freedom.

She would say only that the Human Rights Bureau is a neutral agency created to enforce the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

“The bureau accepts and investigates claims of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, ancestry, sex, age, physical and mental handicap, serious medical condition, disability, spousal affiliation, sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, credit or public accommodation,” she said.

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