Idaho City confirms for-profit wedding chapel violates ordinance

City attorney erroneously claims ordained ministers are operating non-profit

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – The Coeur d’Alene city attorney confirmed in a letter Monday that ordained ministers operating a for-profit wedding chapel are in violation of a city ordinance for declining to marry same-sex couples.

The letter states that “if they are providing services primarily or substantially for profit and they discriminate in providing those services based on sexual orientation then they would likely be in violation of the ordinance.” ADF attorneys representing Donald and Evelyn Knapp explain that the letter’s contention that the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is a non-profit entity that would be exempt from the ordinance is false.

“The city has said explicitly, repeatedly, and publicly that it would prosecute a for-profit business. That’s what the Hitching Post is, and it has never claimed to be anything other than that,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “While the Knapps do operate a ministry, they charge a fee for the ceremonies in order to be able to make a modest living. Therefore, the city, in its letter and elsewhere, is admitting that it would prosecute these pastors, who are clearly under a present threat of being sent to jail, fined, or both. The city has had months to figure out its own ordinance, and our clients have years of incarceration and devastating fines hanging over their heads. The city’s disingenuous waffling is indefensible.”

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The religious corporation document filed by the Knapps on Oct. 6 did not change the chapel to a non-profit entity. It continues to operate as a for-profit LLC.

City officials told the Knapps that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers, are required to perform such ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city repeatedly claimed 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.

On Friday, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit and a request for a temporary restraining order with the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho in Knapp v. City of Coeur d’Alene.

“So, the Hitching Post updated its website. And your point is?” (Alliance Defending Freedom, 2014-10-20)  The Revs. Knapp have not changed their religious beliefs and how they perform marriage ceremonies at The Hitching Post. They have always only performed marriages between one man and one woman. The civil marriages the pastors perform are consistent with their religious beliefs and include the same biblical principles as their traditional ceremonies. They also perform marriage ceremonies for persons of non-Christian faiths because the Bible teaches that marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God for the benefit of all human society. What has changed is what is legally called marriage in Idaho. What has changed is that the city recently passed a law that threatens the pastors with jail time and fines if they don’t violate their religious beliefs and perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. They have changed their website to clarify the types of services they provide in light of the changes in Idaho law. It is not unusual to offer needed clarification in changing circumstances. The criticism regarding changes made to The Hitching Post website are a manufactured distraction meant to divert attention from the very real threats to the pastors’ constitutionally-protected freedom.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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