I saw this over the weekend, and given the peculiar circumstances I wanted to give it some thought before posting. Having done so, my conclusion is that, yep, the gay fascists are seeking to run over the First Amendment again. This time, it’s in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, of all places:
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order Friday to stop officials in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, from forcing two ordained Christian ministers to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.
City officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform such ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claims its “non-discrimination” ordinance requires the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is across the street from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. The Knapps, both in their 60s and who themselves have been married for 47 years, began operating the wedding chapel in 1989 as a ministry. They perform religious wedding ceremonies, which include references to God, the invocation of God’s blessing on the union, brief remarks drawn from the Bible designed to encourage the couple and help them to have a successful marriage, and more. They also provide each couple they marry with a CD that includes two sermons about marriage, and they recommend numerous Christian books on the subject. The Knapps charge a small fee for their services.
Coeur d’Alene officials told the Knapps privately and also publicly stated that the couple would violate the city’s public accommodations statute once same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho if they declined to perform a same-sex ceremony at their chapel. On Friday, the Knapps respectfully declined such a ceremony and now face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to perform that ceremony.
I’m not a big fan of wedding chapels from a Christian standpoint, but that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is 1) that the Knapps are Christian ministers, ordained and performing a recognizably Christian ministry; 2) the ceremonies they conduct are specifically religious in nature, rather than secular, as they make clear here and here; and 3) this is not just about a building, but about the persons who run the organization.
This is getting very close to the situation we were assured would never happen, where churches are forced to perform same-sex weddings regardless of religious convictions or moral objections. The Hitching Post is not a church (it’s a for-profit business), but its religious mission is impossible to overlook (just like lots of other for-profit religious businesses like independent publishers such as Thomas Nelson or Zondervan). Moreover, the only persons allowed to conduct weddings at the hitching Post are the employees who are ordained ministers, who state up-front that they are conducting Christian ceremonies. Once these facts are established, I don’t see how being a for-profit makes the slightest bit of First Amendment difference–remember, the principle that religious organizations are non-profits is an artifact of the tax code, not the Constitution. Furthermore, the city is not just ordering the Knapps to make their facilities available, but seeking to require Christian ministers to perform religious ceremonies that are contrary to their religious beliefs. The only way this would be a clearer violation of the First Amendment is if the Knapps were leading an actual church, but the facts of the situation are such that I don’t really think that’s a significant difference.
The courts will get this next, but I am no longer sanguine about the likelihood of justice prevailing. Right up to the U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts nationwide have adopted Justice Anthony Kennedy’s absurd formulation that opposition to gay marriage stems not from millenia-old religious and moral convictions, but are simply motivated by “animus” no different from racial hatred. If that’s the case, the courts will conclude there’s no reason to treat traditional Christians who seek exemption from anti-discrimination laws and differently than they do the KKK.
Exit question: Is it time, at the very least, for Christian churches to stop allowing non-members to use facilities for weddings, and for pastors to stop performing weddings for non-members?