COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Attorneys for an Idaho minister who is facing possible jail time and fines for refusing to conduct “gay marriages” at a wedding chapel that he operates with his wife have filed a legal challenge seeking a court order banning the government from forcing them to officiate the ceremonies.
Donald Knapp and his wife Evelyn run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho across from the county clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. Their ceremonies are blatantly Christian in nature, and include the reading of Scripture and the invocation of God’s blessing on the union. Those who marry at the facility are also provided with recorded sermons about marriage, along with recommendations of books on the subject.
However, after a federal district judge ruled earlier this year that the state must recognize same-sex “marriages”—striking down Idaho’s voter approved marriage amendment—Warren Wilson with the city attorney’s office noted, “For profit wedding chapels are in a position now where last week the ban would have prevented them from performing gay marriages, this week gay marriages are legal, pending an appeal to the 9th Circuit.”
“If you turn away a gay couple, refuse to provide services for them, then in theory you violated our code and you’re looking at a potential misdemeanor citation,” he explained.
The city attorneys office and other officials told the Knapps that due to the ruling and the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, they would be found in violation of the law if they refused to perform such ceremonies.
On Friday, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit and a motion seeking a temporary restraining order against the ordinance being enforced against the Knapps. The organization states that the couple faces up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for each day that they decline to bless same-sex unions.
“The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a release about the matter on Saturday. “Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here —and it’s happened this quickly.”
“The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple’s freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended,” he continued.
“The city somehow expects ordained pastors to flip a switch and turn off all faithfulness to their God and their vows,” added ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “The U.S. Constitution as well as federal and state law clearly stand against that. The city cannot mandate across-the-board conformity to its interpretation of a city ordinance in utter disregard for the guaranteed freedoms Americans treasure in our society.”
Writer Eugene Eugene Volokh says that he believes the Idaho Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the Knapps, and that forcing a minister to speak words against his convictions would violate the constitution.
“Given that the Free Speech Clause bars the government from requiring public school students to say the pledge of allegiance, or even from requiring drivers to display a slogan on their license plates, the government can’t require ministers—or other private citizens—to speak the words in a ceremony, on pain of either having to close their business or face fines and jail time,” he wrote this weekend.