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My view: Protecting freedom of speech

By Cassie Wynn

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sarah was planning a beach party. She called Mariam, an excellent Muslim photographer, to see if she could take pictures at the event. Upon hearing the details of the party, Mariam declined taking pictures there because of the minimal clothing worn by those in attendance. She told Sarah she would gladly take pictures at another party, but could not at this event because her religion dictates modesty in dress.

Yosef was a Jewish deli owner, often hired to cater events in his area. One day he received a call asking him to cater a barbecue. The caller listed the items he wanted served, many of which included pork. Yosef explained that he could not serve those items. Because of his religious convictions, he serves only kosher foods. When the caller insisted on his desired menu, Yosef informed him that he would need to find a different caterer to satisfy his requests.

Lastly, Vanessa Willock asked photographer Elaine Huguenin to take pictures at her commitment ceremony to a woman named Misti Collinsworth. Huguenin declined, explaining that her studio only photographs “traditional weddings.” Willock hired a different photographer but later filed a complaint against Elane Photography, accusing Huguenin of discriminating against her based on her sexual orientation.

This third example is the only actual event; the previous two are hypothetical stories.

Elaine Huguenin has subsequently received a vastly negative response, stating that she was discriminating against Willock. The other stories help demonstrate that the central issue is not discrimination at all but actually freedom of speech. You may say, “Your stories are different from the Elane Photography v. Willock case.” I submit that they are not. They are simply easier to view objectively because they are not intertwined with the heated debate over same-sex marriage. Thus, we can more easily understand each individual’s choice to decline participation on moral grounds.

Same-sex marriage is a sensitive issue, and when a person denies a gay couple something, there is often a knee-jerk reaction to assume that person is bigoted and discriminatory. In Huguenin’s situation, however, it is important for the preservation of free speech to stop and examine her motive for refusing to offer her services. The issue is not that Huguenin refused to serve lesbians because they are lesbians. She chose not to use her artwork to support an event, a ceremony, which directly conflicted with her religious views.

It is the right of every American to choose what messages he or she will communicate, whether by speech or through artistic talent. To deny an individual this right is to reject the First Amendment. As stated in Huguenin’s letter to the U.S. Supreme Court, to which the case is now being brought, “While the state may properly forbid discrimination based on a person’s status, it may not compel citizens to express messages that they consider disagreeable.” Huguenin’s rights must be protected, but, sadly, in the New Mexico Supreme Court case, they were not.

Should a Muslim deny restaurant service to a Jew? Or a Christian opposed to gay marriage refuse to assist a gay person at a department store? Of course not. But it is against our foundation as freedom-loving Americans to force people to participate in activities whose very purpose contradicts their religious beliefs. As similar cases are brought up, and related legislation is being debated in several states, it is our responsibility to examine each carefully and stand up to protect our freedom of speech when it is threatened.

Cassie Wynn has a bachelor's degree in marriage, family, and human development from Brigham Young University. She loves to travel, play piano, and write, and is married with 3 children.

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