Elane Photography v. Willock
Description: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented Elane Photography and its owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin. In 2006, Elaine received an e-mail from a woman about photographing a “commitment ceremony” between her and her same-sex partner and asking if Elaine would be “open to helping us celebrate our day….” Elaine politely declined to use her artistic expression to communicate a message at odds with her beliefs. The woman who approached Elaine, Vanessa Willock, easily found another photographer for her ceremony—and for less money. Nevertheless, Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. After a one-day administrative trial in 2008, the commission ruled against the Huguenins and ordered them to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to Willock. The case then made its way through the New Mexico state court system, and the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling. In a concurrence accompanying the court’s opinion, one of the justices wrote that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.”
Govt punishment of NM photographer stands, compelled speech problem unresolved…for now
Nonetheless, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Elane Photography and its owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, point out that the central concern in the case—government punishment of Americans for declining to create or promote messages with which they disagree—is alive in other ADF cases moving forward around the country.
“Only unjust laws separate what people say from what they believe,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment. We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system.”
“Americans oppose unjust laws that strong-arm citizens to express ideas against their will,” added Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Elaine and numerous others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are not willing to promote any and all messages. A government that forces any American to create a message contrary to her own convictions is a government every American should fear.”
A July 2013 Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe a Christian photographer has the right to say no if asked to create pictures at a same-sex ceremony that conflicts with the photographer’s religious beliefs. The editorial boards of both The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Times agreed.
Other cases in the legal pipeline that could potentially reach the U.S. Supreme Court include the following:
- Pronunciation guide: Huguenin (HEW’-gun-in), Lorence (LOHR’-ents)