“The Price of Citizenship” … in the writer’s market?

Once upon a time there was a young couple who loved each other very much and found much joy in remembering their wedding day as they looked through wedding albums. Since the young lady was a talented photographer, she and her husband decided that they wanted to help other people have wedding joy as well. So they began a business taking photographs of couples on their wedding day and other joyful events in the life of a family.

However, more than they loved each other this young couple loved God, and wanted to do his will. They wanted to support what God calls good, and warn against what God calls bad. So when someone came and asked them to photograph an event that they knew was against God’s will, they refused. They did not want to be unloving, and they knew that the most unloving thing they could do was give the impression that they supported something they believed was bad.

The ones who asked them to do this were not content to find a different photography company. Instead they took this couple to court, and after many months of court battles the young couple was told by a judge that they had violated the law, and that going against their principles is “the price of citizenship”.

Was the judge correct? Was that a fair application of the laws of their land? No one knows for sure. But no one should be told that they must violate their principles. No one should be told to abandon their beliefs. No one should be told that they are wrong for standing up for the truth. And this young couple should not be prevented from bringing joy to other couples simply because they do not change their beliefs to follow the whims of society.

*  *  *  *  *

That’s a true story – though I confess I may have fudged a few of the details at the outset because I don’t know the couple personally. It happened in New Mexico, and chances are good that if you follow the news much you have already heard about it. In briefer form, the photographer was asked to photograph a lesbian “commitment ceremony”, and she politely refused on the basis of personal belief. The New Mexico Supreme Court has informed her that her refusal is a violation of a human rights act. I feel rather strongly about the situation (if you couldn’t tell from my moralizing at the end of my story), and it raises many other questions and concerns in my mind about what it means for our society as a whole. What I’m not sure is where it stops. What other beliefs must be sacrificed on the altar of “citizenship”? What other prices will need to be paid?

In my role as a church worker I am told that for now I am safe from having to face these issues. One of my major roles in my church is providing pre-marriage education for couples. I anticipate that at some point in my work I will be approach by a same-sex couple, and I will have to refuse. I don’t know if, when that happens, I will still be guaranteed the protection of the law. But I’m not worried for myself. I am sad for what it means for our society that such a question can even be asked.

But in my role as a writer, I wonder about this. Is a fiction novelist protected from accusations of violating human rights if he writes a story that stands in opposition to same-sex marriage? The judge in the New Mexico case, in his fuller statement, explained that in his opinion when a person enters into the marketplace, their personal beliefs must take second place. A writer who produces a work for publication is entering into the marketplace. Does that mean he is not to express his beliefs in his writing if they are in conflict with society? Would not the First Amendment play into that?

The implications of this judge’s opinion are difficult to resolve with our Constitution. It raises more questions with sticky answers than it puts to rest. Who knows, maybe just writing this post is violation enough.

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3 responses to ““The Price of Citizenship” … in the writer’s market?

  1. And now you’re on someone’s list. That’s just great, Brandon. Well, I guess if NSA or someone like that is going to read the blog, at least it brings up traffic, right? 🙂

    Seriously — at least for now, I suspect fiction is “safe.” And at least for now, most forms of writing are safe — just look at how wide the political spectrum is for what’s sold at a Barnes and Noble. But you’re right — we’re not far from going the route of many other “civilized” nations that say that if you say someone else is wrong, let you be anathema!

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re right that we’re still safe for a good long while yet. But who knows what other challenges we might face in the future. And certainly, as we’re seeing with Orson Scott Card right now, even if you are a good writer that can put together a great story, if you speak up for what you believe, you run some risks of your authorship suffering for it.

      • I suspect half the reason for the outcry against Card is some people feeling “betrayed” — he wrote Ender long before social media, so no one knew what his personal views were. They didn’t care. It was just a cool story. And then when they were able to evaluate his personal beliefs… it stung! So I think the backlash there wouldn’t be something that would come now. After all, most authors have a presence online these days. I don’t think there would be a backlash against any new authors — such authors would probably just never get big in the first place, or just serve their own niche.

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