Idaho City To Christian Pastors: Perform Same-Sex Weddings Or Face Jail

The city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is taking a step many opponents of same-sex marriage feared would come – forcing those with religious objections to perform same-sex marriages or risk facing prosecution for violating non-discrimination laws.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers who oppose gay marriage, own the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene. Early in 2014, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, but the ruling was put on hold while the case was appealed. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, the ruling stood and went into effect.

The city of Coeur d’Alene has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, in public accommodations. It does have a religious exemption, but the Hitching Post is a for-profit company, not technically a religious organization, in spite of the Knapp’s deeply held personal beliefs.

Back in May, when everything was on hold pending the Supreme Court, Donald told KXLY, “I think the Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is not his way, and therefore I cannot unite people in a way that I believe would conflict with what the Bible teaches.” The Knapps have said they will close their doors before violating their religious beliefs.

But before that happens, there is another legal battle ahead.

“On Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married by the Knapps, and the Knapps politely declined. The Knapps now face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.” Note that jail time and the fine is per day, not per offense, The Daily Signal reports.

Also on Friday, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Knapps to stop the city from enforcing the fine and/or jail time.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal council at ADF, said, “The government should not force ordained. 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.”

In May, Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Warren Wilson told KXLY, “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.”

With the city moving to enforce that code, ADF moved to defend the Knapps. Eugene Volokh, UCLA law professor and legal blogger at the Washington Post, thinks they have a good case. That Coeur d’Alene’s move against the Knapps violates the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Volokh, who teaches free speech and religious freedom law, thinks, “…compelling them (the Knapps) to speak words in ceremonies that they think are immoral is an unconstitutional speech compulsion. 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 (Wooley v. Maynard (1977), 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.”

Ultimately the same Supreme Court that set this situation in motion with their recent rejection of the broader issue will likely have to decide how far to take it. While the macro issue of same-sex marriage is advancing around the country, there remain a lot of micro issues yet to be settled.