Sorry I missed this earlier in the week, given all of the rush hour traffic clogging the lanes between ISIS City and Ebolatown. We previously covered the now familiar tale of the Knapps at the Hitching Post in Idaho. For the short version of the recap, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, both ordained ministers, were informed that they were going to have to perform same sex weddings at their chapel in order to remain in compliance with a city non-discrimination ordinance. The ensuing uproar which traveled from coast to coast like a shotgun blast apparently attracted the attention of the city fathers who have since thought better of the matter.
The city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said a for-profit wedding chapel owned by two ministers doesn’t have to perform same-sex marriages…
Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d’Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt.
But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.
More from attorney Doug Mataconis, who saw this one coming.
Even accepting the legitimacy of public accommodation laws and the idea that the idea of expanding them to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation, there is something unique and different about a wedding ceremony conducted by an ordained minister. Even if that ceremony is not religious in nature in and of itself, the fact that it is being performed by a minister means that the law needs to take into consideration the religious beliefs of the individuals that would be impacted by it. After all, as Volokh notes, to interpret it otherwise would mean that any minister who performs a ceremony for a small stipend would potentially be covered by such a law, and that would clearly run afoul of both the Idaho version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which mirrors the Federal Law at issue in the Hobby Lobby case, and the First Amendment itself. In either case, forcing the minister to perform the ceremony notwithstanding any doctrinal objections they may have to do so would impose a substantial burden on their religious liberty.
I rather suspect that everyone in the area (outside of a handful of activists who would probably want to force it into the courts as they have done with bakeries and photographers) was glad to see this dispute go away. You might be able to find a judge willing to take your case if it’s a completely secular service open to the public, such as hall rentals and photo albums. But do you really want to drag this elderly, adorable husband and wife into court and tell them they have to do something which violates their religious tenets? You may as well be the prosecutor in Miracle on 34th Street who had to prove that Santa Claus isn’t real.