Is Betrayal of Conscience the Price of Citizenship?

Doing so, he declared, “is the price of citizenship.”

In this ruling, the Supreme Court of New Mexico has things exactly backward. The Founders knew that obligations to God precede obligations to the state — hence the very concept of human rights, including the right of the colonists to rebel — and that no state could legitimately abridge them. By including freedom of religion as the very first right in the very first Amendment to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers meant to prevent laws that would violate freedom of religion from being passed in the first place.

The Elane Photography case is just the latest example of betraying the founding principles of the United States by passing laws that violate freedom of religion, and then declaring that no one has the right to be exempt from the law.

Justice Bosson said that the very “rule of law” required the Huguenins to photograph the wedding, a “sobering” conclusion that “provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice.”

Bosson said the case teaches that in a multicultural society, “at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others.” To avoid “the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world,” he said, the Huguenins “have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.”

It doesn’t take a law degree, much less a seat on the bench, to recognize Bosson is right in his principles, but wrong in his application of them. In a multicultural society — at least one that guarantees freedom of religion — it is the religious teachings of others that must be accommodated by people “who believe something different.” When following the rule of law, it is the people who want others to violate their consciences who must “channel their conduct.”

In New Mexico, as in many other states, gay marriage is the current cause célèbre and the rule of law is given very short shrift. As this essay goes to the editor, three clerks in different areas of the state are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of state law, apparently sure that the strength of their personal feelings about the matter is more important than statues enacted by the government that employs them.

Likewise, the federal Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department have declared that, whatever the laws of the states they live in, gay couples married in states that had legalized same-sex marriage would be treated as married couples everywhere — allowed, for example, to file income taxes jointly.

Declaration by state and federal officials that they will ignore or bypass the law in favor for what they think the law should be has become distressingly common at all levels. Even the Attorney General of the United States has refused to follow or said he would refuse to enforce several federal laws.

In contrast, the Huguenins are attempting to follow the laws of their state and their country, as well as the teachings of their religion — teachings that are not the invention of a particular sect or a particular preacher, but that are the consistent teachings of Christianity for 2000 years, and of Judaism for thousands of years before that.

Whatever the Supreme Court of New Mexico says, defying those teachings is not “the price of citizenship” in the United States.


image: shutterstock

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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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