Idaho Ministers Told Perform Gay Marriage or Go to Jail
Their belief in the biblical definition of marriage puts one Idaho couple center stage in America's culture war over same-sex marriage.
Donald and Evelyn Knapp own a Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. They are also Christians and ordained ministers and have been marrying couples since 1989 in traditional marriage services without conflict until now.
The city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, has a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho's constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and woman, the statute is being enforced.
The Knapps were told by city officials if they didn't perform same-sex weddings they would face fines and even jail time.
The city told the couple that the statute includes "public accomodations" and consider their business as one.
Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married at the wedding chapel. When the Knapps, who themselves have been married 47 years, declined based on their religious belief -- they immediately faced the fines and possibility of jail time.
Attorneys representing them say this is government coercion. They say just because the government recognizes same-sex marriages doesn't mean citizens, even business owners, should be forced to do so.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy education and information group, wrote about the case on its "Daily Signal" website.
"The Knapps have been celebrating weddings in their chapel since 1989. Government should not now force them to shut down or violate their beliefs. After all, protecting 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." wrote Ryan Anderson with the Daily Signal.
"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," he also said.
Anderson stated in his article that Congress "has an opportunity to protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience." He reported there are bills in Congress that would protect these rights, and states need them as well. He states in his article that Idaho has one. It is the Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act.
"It is unclear how the city could claim that forcing the Knapps to perform a same-sex wedding is a compelling government interest being pursued in the least restrictive way. There are numerous other venues where a same-sex couple could get married. Indeed, there is a county clerks office directly across the street from the chapel," Anderson said.
Anderson also wrote states must protect these rights so people aren't coerced to act against their beliefs.
The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion on behalf of the Knapps arguing their First and 14th Amendment rights are being violated -- pointing out that not only were the Knapps freedom of religion and free speech rights violated but also the right to due process and equal protection.
Sources: Daily Signal, Alliance Defending Freedom