Nearly 500 Years of Conflict: Courts, Marriage, and Freedom of Conscience

Nearly 500 Years of Conflict: Courts, Marriage, and Freedom of Conscience

On Tuesday of this week, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case where the owners of a small family business have challenged the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that requires employers who provide health care coverage to their employees to include in that coverage all FDA approved drugs and devices designed to prevent pregnancy. The Court’s decision is expected before the end of June when the Supreme Court recesses for the summer.

This important religious liberty case has all but overshadowed many of the other cases which are being heard in these final days of oral arguments before the Court. One extremely important case of note is that of Elane Photography, LLC, v. Willock. In fact, today (March 28) is when the case is scheduled for Conference. Elane Photography also turns on the issue of liberty, but in actuality it is more aptly a free market issue.

The case began several years ago when a couple who owned a small photography business found themselves embroiled in controversy simply because the wife, Elaine Hugenin of Elane photography, declined to take the wedding pictures for a lesbian couple in New Mexico. Elaine firmly believes that marriage can only be contracted between one man and one woman, and it would be a violation of her conscience to contribute materially to a ceremony that essential was a fraudulent attempt at marriage. The woman who approached Elaine for the services, Vanessa WIllock, soon found another photographer who was happy to accommodate the couple and photograph the wedding. But Willock was not satisfied and soon filed a claim against Elane Photography for unlawful discrimination. The New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately ruled in August that the business owners violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by turning away a request to take photos of a same-sex commitment ceremony. That is when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear it.

Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin
Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin

You can read more about the substance of the claim and the briefs that have been filed in a number of places on the Internet. One particularly interesting article was written by the Alliance  Defending Freedom, which is involved in the Huguenins’ defense, and the article contains this analogy:

After we appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court on behalf of the Huguenins, the court ruled against them last August.   While the ruling itself was shocking, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case came in a written opinion from one of the justices.  He wrote that compelling the Huguenins to violate their deeply held religious beliefs on the definition of marriage was simply “the price of citizenship.”

There have been many governments throughout history that demanded its citizens compromise their deeply held beliefs.  The word for those governments is “tyranny.”

Just a pinch of incense

Perhaps the most famous example of this is the persecution of Christians in Ancient Rome. During periods of persecution, Christians could escape death if they would only offer a pinch of incense to the statue of Caesar and utter the words, “Caesar is lord.”  Denying Christ was the price of citizenship. Or in this case the price of staying alive.

Who would have thought that in America Christians are now expected to “offer their pinch of incense to Caesar” to avoid punishment?


The “pinch of incense” is an apt analogy. But as I have followed this case through the court system, I have been repeatedly reminded of another historical context — one not quite as old as the Roman persecutions. It is the story of Saint Thomas More, who happens to be my favorite saint since he is the Patron Saint of Lawyers. The classic movie A Man for All Seasons is a brilliant example of how Thomas More knew the law, loved the law, and died by the law–albeit a skewed interpretation of the law.

As in the case of the Huguenins, it was God’s law that Thomas sought to follow. Quite appropriately, his run-in with the authorities also involved marriage — in his case the illegal marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. If you have not seen the movie A Man for All Seasons, I strongly recommend it, as it is a testament to how one with firmly held convictions can and should stand up to cowardly liberal authorities. There is one particular scene that I want to share here. It occurs after the farce of a trial in which Thomas is condemned for refusing to take an oath of fidelity to King Henry VIII. In Thomas’ heart that oath would have meant he was denying that the Pope was head of the Church. Whatever your religious beliefs, this saint’s life can provide a measure of inspiration in a time when media and men are bowing down to a secular, anti-religion government.

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  • Jen says:

    Donna, thank you for writing the above article. In the case of the photographer, I find the NM judges opinions appalling and telling. We have graduated a level of lawyers who become judges later from law schools whose sole purpose is to indoctrinate and provide support for marxist believes and actions.
    I give you the current president as example A. A graduate of an “esteemed” law school, president of it’s law review, a visting professor of constitutional law and one of the most lawless presidents in recent memory, with an administration to match.

    How a judge can say that being compelled to violate one’s religious beliefs as the price of citizenship is in conflict with so many aspects of the constitution, it is remarkable that this man is still on the bench in NM.

  • Donna Miller says:

    Unbelievable is the right word, Jen. I am working on my next post, and it is about two more recent rulings that are also unbelievable in my opinion. The executive fiat that this president has relied on has led the judicial branch jurists to also think they can take matters into their own hands and legislate from the bench, as the New Mexico court did here. Sadly, our law schools are as controlled by liberals as are almost all undergraduate colleges and universities in the country.

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