Thank goodness our semi-free market provides so much choice. A decision by the Supreme Court on April 7 forcing photographers to work at same-sex weddings, reminds us why freedom requires virtuous behavior.
Though preacher Fred Phelps died, his Westboro Baptist church lives on with protests that shout hateful and frightening words about gays.
Suppose two vitriolic Westboro parishioners plan a wedding at their church. They try to contract with a gay photographer who doesn’t want the job.
Some might think freedom of association, as long upheld by court interpretations of the Constitution, would protect the photographer in declining to spend a day earning money from people with values that offend him. Furthermore, rejection of the contract could be seen as expression protected by the First Amendment. Even more, the gay photographer may have religious convictions that prevent him from doing business with a church that openly hates. The First Amendment expressly defends his right to exercise religion, which may include avoidance of transactions with people who hate.
Forcing a gay photographer to work at a Westboro wedding seems cruel. But that’s the type of scenario we could see as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline a complicated religious liberties case.
The New Mexico Supreme Court determined government gets to force two wedding photographers to photograph same-sex weddings. The photographers, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, said they “gladly serve gays and lesbians” in nonmarriage settings. But they felt same-sex wedding photography would “require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.”
It’s the crux of a bigger dilemma. Our culture wants to ensure fair access to goods and services without merchants and providers discriminating on a basis of race, religion, nationality, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation — and other traits specified in local and state laws. Simultaneously, we want to protect people from alliances they’d rather avoid for the exercise or expression of deeply held convictions.
Whether one shares or respects the values of the Huguenins, it’s easy to see their gripe. They don’t want to create images that may promote activity that violates their fundamental Christian belief. If they were Muslims or Sikhs, their objection to same-sex marriage might be even less forgiving.
But the New Mexico court said the Huguenins had no choice about working at a same-sex wedding. They must show up and work or they’ll violate the state’s civil rights act. On the surface, it sounds like a move toward acceptance and tolerance. In practice, it’s not that simple. By forcing associations that challenge philosophical convictions, the courts give business owners two choices: 1. Relinquish free expression, free exercise of religion and freedom of association while doing business; or 2. Stop doing business and find some other way to survive.
Judges despise these conflicts because allocation of rights is messy business. Unlike wealth, rights are not created by limitless human endeavors. As such, defense of one person’s liberty often comes at the expense of another’s. That may explain why the Supreme Court declined to hear this case.
Freedom works best when individuals act with respect and restraint. Consumers should not shop for conflict when blessed with abundant choices of merchants and service providers in a vast, semi-free market. Likewise, business owners should try to honor any consumer who walks through the door willing to pay. The road to moral and economic bankruptcy is paved with intolerance and bigotry.
When people behave with dignity and honor — with respect for one another — fewer conflicts must be resolved at the courthouse.
Reprinted From The Colorado Springs Gazette