Lawyer: Court cases could impact businesses, parishes

| October 9, 2013 | 0 Comments
Jordan Lorence

Jordan Lorence

A native Minnesotan who has been in the trenches of the war for religious liberty is coming back to speak in the Twin Cities.

Attorney Jordan Lorence, who serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, will give a talk at the Minnesota Religious Freedom Forum Oct. 24 at the St. Paul RiverCentre. ADF and the Minnesota Catholic Conference are sponsoring the forum, along with several other local organizations.

The event provides an opportunity for those concerned about and affected by religious freedom issues to hear from legal experts like Lorence, who will talk about several high-profile cases he has worked on.

One of those cases involves a husband-and-wife photography business in New Mexico called Elane Photography. With the recent passage of same-sex marriage in Minnesota, the case has particular relevance to local businesses and, possibly, local parishes.

The couple was sued in 2006 by a same-sex couple interested in hiring them to photograph their commitment ceremony. Elaine and Jonathan Hugeunin, who declined because their Christian beliefs conflicted with the message communicated by the ceremony,  lost the case and were ordered to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees to the women who filed the complaint.

“What these kind of marriage-related cases are now trying to do, in my opinion, is to make a public example and punish people who believe that marriage is [between] one man and one woman, and intimidate others into not allowing that belief to enter any other area of their life,” said Lorence, who has helped with the case, which will be submitted for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

“The First Amendment has to protect the free exchange of ideas and not say to people, ‘Your viewpoints are illegitimate and need to be punished or suppressed in the public square,’” he said.

Lorence fears Catholic parishes here and elsewhere could be vulnerable to lawsuits if they offer services like reception-hall rental to people outside the parish who plan to marry. And, vendors in the wedding industry could find themselves facing a discrimination lawsuit if they refuse to do business with same-sex couples.

“It’s inevitable that, sooner or later, one of these business owners or professionals is going to be asked to promote a message that he or she doesn’t agree with,” Lorence said. But, he believes they shouldn’t “be ordered to surrender their rights as a price to enter the marketplace.”

Another area of concern about religious freedom comes from the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate. While some religious employers are protected from paying for health insurance covering contraception and abortifacients, private employers are not given the same protection.

The Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which Lorence also has worked on, is a case in point. The Christian owners of this arts and crafts chain have been fighting in court to avoid complying with the HHS mandate. On July 19, a federal judge in Oklahoma granted a temporary injunction to Hobby Lobby, and gave the government until Oct. 1 to consider an appeal. The owners of Hobby Lobby have argued that following the mandate violates their religious freedom.

“On a more philosophical or conceptual level . . . it’s [a matter of] whether business owners are allowed to have their religious beliefs influence their business practices,” Lorence said. “I think, in general, we want people to operate their businesses according to [their] moral standards.

“If somebody says, ‘I want to have fair trade coffee, or ‘I’m switching to other materials that don’t harm the environment,’ we applaud that as enlightened and far sighted.

“What I hear the other side sometimes say is that, ‘Well, I wouldn’t do what Hobby Lobby does when it comes to coverage of medical care. I wouldn’t do what Elane Photography is doing. Therefore, both Hobby Lobby and Elane Photography have no right of conscience protection….’ That’s really wrong.”

The keynote address at the forum will draw attention to the Hobby Lobby case. It will be delivered by Michael McAfee, director of faith initiatives for Hobby Lobby. He is the son-in-law of Steve and Jackie Green, who own and operate Hobby Lobby.

“I think that they [Hobby Lobby and Elane Photography cases] are a very big deal,” Lorence said. “If these cases lose [at the Supreme Court level], there will be no [religious liberty] protection for anybody at all.”

Want to attend?

The Minnesota Religious Freedom Forum will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 24, at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

The forum is a one-day training that provides practical legal information for protecting religious freedom. Workshops will cover a broad range of religious liberty concerns and will be provided by prominent Minnesota attorneys and legal experts from the nationally recognized Alliance Defending Freedom.

For more information and to register, visit mnreligiousfreedom.org. The event is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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