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Inside Washington

What happens in the halls of national government – for better or for worse – can dictate the future course of America. Along with your fellow Prayer Team members, you are to be constantly and fervently interceding for all the men and women who serve in Congress, for your military leaders in the Pentagon, and for the President of the United States, his cabinet and administration.

“Inside Washington” will equip you to do just that … with reports on the nation’s leaders and the decisions they’re considering … or have already made. We’ll examine the implications for the nation, and call you to specific prayer for those needs.

Photo Finished

InsideWashingtonIs the end near for Christian business owners?

By Jim Ray

The letter of protest—hand-delivered to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney—was signed by 40 news agencies… ranging from Agence France-Presse to The New York Times. “Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties,” they complained. “As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view…”

It’s unlikely you have heard much about this dispute, which is sort of an “inside baseball” clash between reporters and President Obama’s handlers. The gist of it is this: the White House has severely restricted news agencies from photographing the President, preferring instead to release its own official pictures, and the decision hasn’t gone down well with the press. You might not care about this issue, but for politicians, controlling messages and images—the “optics” as they like to say—is paramount. And, last week at the Supreme Court, photography was at the center of a same-sex marriage case…one that may provide a snapshot of the status of religious rights in America.

The issue presented to the Court involved a New Mexico photographer who declined a request from a lesbian couple to document their wedding ceremony. The photographer, Elaine Huguenin, is religiously opposed to gay marriage and thus didn’t want to participate in the event. But she was charged with violating the New Mexico Human Rights Act—which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation—and was ordered to pay almost $7,000 in attorney’s fees to the complainants.

The case wound its way to the Supreme Court, but in a move that surprised some observers, the Justices declined to hear the case, effectively settling it in favor of the lesbian couple. The options now for Elaine Huguenin are to photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies or shut down her business.

This is obviously a devastating personal outcome for Huguenin and those who supported her, but what does this Supreme Court-sidestep mean for religious freedom in a larger context? Before hitting the panic button, it may be useful to consider how the nation’s highest court actually operates, and what might be just over the legal horizon.

First, the fact the Supreme Court refused to hear the case doesn’t mean the Justices agree with New Mexico’s decision. The Court agrees to hear only about 75-85 cases each year, out of about 10,000 submitted. So the chances of getting a case before the Court is less than one percent, and while it can’t be known exactly why the Huguenin lawsuit in particular was rejected, it wasn’t on the merits. It might have been one or more of the following factors:

Timing

The Supreme Court may be waiting for the horde of cases about religious freedoms and business to congeal before taking up the matter. There are other similar lawsuits involving bakers, printers and florists now working their way through other courts that have yet to be decided. One of the triggers for Supreme Court intervention is when two jurisdictions reach opposite and contradictory conclusions. That hasn’t yet happened, but probably will.

Clarity

There are actually two separate constitutional issues raised by the New Mexico case. As a photographer, Elaine Huguenin’s work is both commerce and art—which are treated differently by the law, and involve separate legal questions of “equal protection” and the “right to free speech.” Conceivably, the Supreme Court might have concluded this wasn’t the best case in which to render a concise and conclusive decision.

Interest

It also cannot be overlooked that the Justices take on cases based on their own particular interests and, arguably, considerations about the image and legacy of the Court. Having just heard the Hobby Lobby case, which involves some similar, highly emotive issues of religious freedom, it is possible the Court believes it best to defer this contentious matter for another day.

In short, everything has yet to be decided, and the response of Christians to the New Mexico decision should not be despair but determination, marked by a renewed commitment to steadfast intercession for America’s leaders. Others may obsess over the “optics,” but as you consider your own, critical role in your nation’s future, consider what Jesus considered most important in the midst of clamoring and controversy. “He would withdraw to desolate places,” Luke 5:16 says, “and pray.”

Jim Ray is a writer, fundraiser and consultant. He and his wife Stacey have two children and reside in Nashville, TN.




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