What is the Idaho wedding chapel story all about?
Same-sex marriage became legal in the state of Idaho earlier this month after a federal court ruled in the case of Latta v. Otter that the state’s statutes and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This ruling affected an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Coeur d’Alene, which was enacted last year to cover “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” (Since there is currently no similar state or federal non-discrimination laws, the requirement only applies in Coeur d’Alene or other Idaho cities with similar ordinances.)
Donald and Evelyn Knapp, two ordained Pentecostal ministers who run the for-profit Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, asked the city for clarification on how the change in the law would affect their business. The city attorney told them they were now required to perform same-sex ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines.
How did the ministers respond?
Both ministers claim that performing perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples goes against their religious beliefs. So on behalf of the couple, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order last Friday to stop city officials from forcing the ministers from being forced to violate their conscience or give up their business.
Is it true, as same outlets have claimed, that the Knapps were arrested for their views?
No. To date, no complaint has been made against them so the Knapps do not face either criminal or civil penalties. But the change in the law only occurred a few weeks ago and the Knapps have already turned away one homosexual couple, so they are taking proactive measures to protect themselves from what is likely to be an inevitable conflict.
Because they run a for-profit business, shouldn’t they be required to perform same-sex ceremonies?
Unfortunately, far too many of our fellow citizens do seem to think that non-discrimination laws should always trump religious and conscience rights. But as the Supreme Court ruled in the recent Hobby Lobby case, Americans do not give up their First Amendment right to religious liberty simply because they decide to earn a profit from their work.
Also, as legal scholar Eugene Volokh says, applying the antidiscrimination ordinance to these pastors would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Volokh notes that “compelling them 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. (If the minister is required to conduct a ceremony that contains religious language, that would violate the Establishment Clause as well.)
What does this case portend for religious liberties?
We should expect to see such clashes between LGBT ‘non-discrimination’ laws and religious freedoms become increasingly common. State and federal laws protecting religious liberty (such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) can serve as a temporary firebreak, but within the next decade they’ll likely fall to legal challenges. If Americans refuse to recognize that natural rights are given by God and not the state, there isn’t much we can do to prevent them from being trampled on. Our main recourse will be to remind our fellow citizens — including many Christians — why protecting religious freedom for all Americans is essential to securing our liberties and well-being as a nation.