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October 19, 2014

Remember When They Said Government Would Never Force Ministers To Perform Gay Weddings?

They lied -- because now we are seeing precisely that situation in Idaho.

Two Christian ministers who own an Idaho wedding chapel were told they had to either perform same-sex weddings or face jail time and up to $1,000 in daily fines, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Donald and Evelyn Knapp, two ordained ministers who own the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene.

“Right now they are at risk of being prosecuted,” attorney Jeremy Tedesco told me. “The threat of enforcement is more than just credible.”

The wedding chapel is registered as a “religious corporation” limited to performing “one-man-one-woman marriages as defined by the Holy Bible.”

However, the chapel is also a for-profit business and city officials said that means the owners must comply with the local nondiscrimination ordinance.

That ordinance, passed in 2013, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and it applies to housing, employment and public accommodation.

City Attorney Warren Wilson told The Spokesman-Review in May that the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel likely would be required to follow the ordinance.

“I would think that the Hitching Post would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance,” he said.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is on the case -- and noting that this case underscores the threat that gay marriage and non-discrimination ordinances that include homosexuality are to religious freedom.

Consider this observation by noted First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh.

Note that, if the law can be applied against the Knapps, public accommodation laws could also equally be applied to ministers who provide freelance officiating services in exchange for money. The particular Coeur d’Alene ordinance might not apply there, since it covers only “place[s],” and that might be limited to brick-and-mortar establishments; but similar ordinances in other places cover any “establishment,” and if a wedding photography service is an “establishment” then a minister who routinely takes officiating commissions would be covered as well.

That leads me to wonder as well if a church that allows non-members to marry in its building might also be subject to such laws. After all, during my wife's time as a pastor she officiated at the marriages of couples who were not members of the congregation but who wanted a church wedding. Would this be sufficient to make the church a "public accommodation" -- or to allow government to force her (or a future pastor) to perform gay weddings? [As an aside, the denomination in which she served today permits gay marriages, though ministers have discretion as to whether or not to perform them and congregations have the discretion to refuse to allow them to be performed in their church.]

But at its core, this raises two questions:






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NAME: Greg
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