SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The attorney general of Illinois has filed a lawsuit against a Christian bed and breakfast owner for not paying $30,000 in damages to two men who filed a discrimination complaint against him after he declined to allow them to use his property to hold a ceremony celebrating their civil union.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a complaint in Ford County Circuit Court on Oct. 23 against Walder Vacuflo Inc., which operates the TimberCreek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton.
“Madigan’s complaint alleges Walder Vacuflo has failed to comply with an order issued by the Illinois Human Rights Commission (IHRC) directing the company to pay damages to a gay couple after refusing to host their civil union ceremony,” a press release from Madigan’s office outlines.
As previously reported, TimberCreek identifies itself on the main page of its website as “an upscale Christian country bed and breakfast,” situated in the midst of a small farming community. The facility hosts church retreats, baby and bridal showers, business meetings and other events.
In 2011, local resident Todd Wathen contacted TimberCreek via email to inquire if the bed and breakfast would be hosting civil union ceremonies after Illinois approved the unions that year via the “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.” Owner Jim Walder replied that the facility had no such plans, and allegedly advised Wathen that “homosexuality is immoral and unnatural,” and that “it’s not too late to change your behavior.”
Three days later, Wathen filed a discrimination complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) also soon became involved and sought emotional damages for Wathen and his partner, Mark.
In 2016, Michael Robinson, an administrative law judge appointed by the Commission, ordered Walder to pay $30,000 in damages to the men ($15,000 each), as well as $50,000 in attorney’s fees and more than $1,200 in costs.
Robinson also mandated that Walder follow the Illinois Human Rights Act by not declining further events, and that he additionally host Wathen’s celebration at the bed and breakfast within one year. The two men held a ceremony in their yard in 2011 after being declined; they did not seek other facilities as alternatives.
However, Walder, who advised that he could not comply with the order because of his Christian faith, filed an appeal. Commissioners Duke Alden, Terry Cosgrove and Patricia Bakalis-Yadgir, who were assigned to the case, soon issued an order stating that they had “declined further review” of a “recommended order and decision,” allowing Robinson’s order to stand.
But the background of two of the three commissioners posed an issue as Cosgrove had been inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, and himself had filed a discrimination case against a local bar. He has also lobbied for state laws about the matter.
Alden serves as the chairman of Howard Brown Health, a health and social services organization for homosexual and “transgendered” persons. He also was a part of a “Presidential Debate Viewing Party” for homosexuals in Chicago to “cheer on Hillary Clinton.”
“[A]ssigning two out of three commissioners who are either LGBT activists or openly gay to review our case is corrupt and indefensible,” Walder consequently told the Paxton Record. “[B]oth commissioners should have honorably recused themselves from the review.”
“This feels like blatant reverse discrimination against all business owners, Christian or otherwise, by the IHRC, which is supposed to be an unbiased, neutral party in resolving complaints,” he said. “It begs the question how this unelected commission’s rulings can ever be taken seriously again.”
Attorney General Madigan has now sued Walder for neither paying the damages or allowing the men to hold the ceremony on his property, as ordered by Robinson and upheld by the panel.
“My office is committed to holding businesses accountable if they refuse service to members of the public based on sexual orientation,” she said in a statement.
However, Walder says that homosexuals are welcome to visit his bed and breakfast; he just cannot accommodate their ceremony due to his religious beliefs.
“None of this goes back to hate. None of this goes back to bigotry. None of this goes back to being homophobic. … All of this goes back to the Bible and how God sees homosexuality,” he said in 2016. “I don’t want to see someone not go to Heaven, because the opposite of that is unfathomable.”