Two ordained ministers have filed a federal lawsuit and are seeking a restraining order to prevent local officials from forcing them to marry same-sex couples, saying they have been threatened with fines and possible jail time over their refusal.
Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, claiming that city officials told them that they are required to conduct gay marriages under a nondiscrimination ordinance…
“Each day the Knapps decline to perform a requested same-sex wedding ceremony, they commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor, subject to the same penalties,” reads the official complaint. “Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000.”
Owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp say in the lawsuit that they believe marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.
“Performing same-sex wedding ceremonies would thus force the Knapps to condone, promote and even consecrate something forbidden by their religious beliefs and ordination vows,” the suit reads.
The city passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2013. It applies to housing, employment and “public accommodation.” Religious entities are exempt from the ordinance. But in May city attorney Warren Wilson told The Spokesman-Review that The Hitching Post, which is a for-profit business, likely would be required to follow the ordinance.
Libertarian atheists who hate Christians and don’t like to admit it will find their exception at this point. Donald and Evelyn Knapp run the Hitching Post, wherein they perform marriages. “Yes,” say the libertarians, “it’s a business so they must provide accommodation.”
For the rest of us, the Knapps are Christians. They run their Hitching Post as a ministry and their weddings are religious affairs with quotes from scripture, etc.
That does not matter…
You will be made to care. The Knapp’s will be made to care. And all the people who said this would never happen will move the goal posts.
Jeremy Hooper notes that back in May when it was first in the news, the Hitching Post Chapel’s website said that the Knapps offered a “traditional or civil ceremony” for weddings and that they also would “perform wedding ceremonies of other faiths.” Though the website still said as much as recently as October 9, 2014, the old language has been scrubbed and the Hitching Post now only offers “a traditional Christian wedding ceremony.”
As for different-sex couples of other faiths, the new Employee Policy vaguely explains that “Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.” This seems to suggest that it would not be a violation of their religious beliefs to perform non-Christian marriages so long as they don’t perform same-sex marriages — even Christian ones.
The city’s ordinance does provide an exemption for “religious corporations,” but the Hitching Post is not run by a church. ADF’s complaint does not claim that it is such a corporation, but argues that because the exemption is “broad” and exists for churches and church-run corporations, “the City has no legitimate basis for refusing to extend a religious exemption to the Knapps who are Christian ministers engaged in a religious function.” Nevertheless, the Knapps are still running a for-profit business that is providing a service (weddings) to one group of people and not to others that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in conflict with the ordinance. Conservatives are already conflating the two in this case to suggest that LGBT rights are forcing ministers to compromise their beliefs.
Friday, the Knapps moved for a temporary restraining order, arguing that applying the antidiscrimination ordinance to them would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I think that has to be right: 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.)
I think the Knapps are also entitled to an exemption under the Idaho RFRA. The Knapps allege that “sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit them from performing, officiating, or solemnizing a wedding ceremony between anyone other than one man and one woman”; I know of no reason to think they’re lying about their beliefs. Requiring them to violate their beliefs (or close their business) is a substantial burden on their religious practice.
And I find it hard to see a compelling government interest in barring sexual orientation discrimination by ministers officiating in a chapel. Whatever interests there may be in equal access to jobs, to education, or even in most public accommodations, I don’t see how there would be a “compelling” government interest in preventing discrimination in the provision of ceremonies, especially ceremonies conducted by ministers in chapels.
[P]rotecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms. No one has a right to have the government force a particular minister to marry them. Some citizens may conclude that they cannot in good conscience participate in same-sex ceremonies, from priests and pastors to bakers and florists. They should not be forced to choose between strongly held religious beliefs and their livelihood.
At the federal level, Congress has an opportunity to protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience…
Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. The government should be prohibited from discriminating against such groups or individuals in tax policy, employment, licensing, accreditation or contracting.
The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act—sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, in the House (H.R. 3133) with more than 100 co-sponsors of both parties, and sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in the Senate (S. 1808) with 17 co-sponsors—would prevent the federal government from taking such adverse actions.
Essentially, this is the same bit of hypocrisy we saw from Hobby Lobby. A business claims religious privilege when it suits them – in this case, allowing them to indulge their prejudice against gay people. Yet they are conveniently able to look past such fundamental Christian principles as “whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33) or “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Jesus makes it quite clear: there can be no such thing as “Christian profit.” It’s inherently contradictory, like “Kosher bacon” or “tolerable praise music.”
Let’s not even address the issue of how He would feel about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony being carried out at a place called the “Hitching Post.”
The Religious Right has achieved a sense of entitlement so great that they have lost all connection to the founding principles of separation of church and state. That wall exists so that government cannot interfere with the private beliefs of citizens. It does not exist so that a privileged class can simply shout “But, Jesus!” every time they are confronted with a law or a tax that they find annoying. The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion, not “Congress shall not mess with thine bottom line.”
The good news is that there is a solution for the ministers in question. All they must do is get out of the wedding for profit industry.
The theory behind gay marriage, in short, was the theory behind the entire secular left: society and the state are the all-powerful forces on which the life of the individual depends, and the most important political task—indeed, the most important task in life—is getting this irresistible power on your side. Once you gain social and political power, you hold on to it by making your preferred views mandatory, a catechism everyone must affirm, while suppressing all heretical views. In this case, to gain social acceptance of homosexuality, you make the affirmation of gay marriages mandatory while officially suppressing any dissenting religious views.
Except that it turns out to have the opposite effect in the long run, as the history of the original inquisition reveals. A big part of the reason for the centuries-long decline in the influence of religion in the West is the aftermath of its attempts to protect its social monopoly through coercion. I don’t think the Church has ever really recovered from the legacy of the Spanish Inquisition, which served to discredit religion by associating it with brutality—an image that has lived in infamy for centuries, down to its use in a certain well-known Monty Python sketch.
As an advocate of secularism—including secular morality and a secular basis for liberty—I don’t want my own views similarly discredited by association with the oppressive acts of a new Secular Inquisition.
May 19, 2014: