By Tony Perkins
If homosexuals get their way, Pastor Donald Knapp won’t be behind the pulpit — he’ll be behind bars. That’s the stunning development in Idaho, where the day liberals promised would never come is already here. Two ministers — a husband and wife team — have been told by their city government that refusing to “marry” a same-sex couple will send them straight to jail.
After 25 years of owning The Hitching Post wedding chapel, Donald and Evelyn are being faced with a situation neither of them thought possible: being imprisoned for their faith. Like the flood of state amendments steamrolled by activist judges, Idaho’s fell earlier this month. And with it, religious liberty. Fearing the worst, the Knapps reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom, concerned that their chapel would be targeted. Less than a week later, the battle was at their front door.
For Donald and Evelyn, there was never any question what the duo would do. Unapologetically Christian, the husband-and-wife team is overtly religious, marrying couples with faith-driven vows, and even offering marriage sermons on CD to newlyweds. That doesn’t matter to city officials, who had this marriage message for The Hitching Post: Conform or be punished. And not just any punishment, but 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for every day the ministers refuse to perform the ceremony.
“Right now,” said attorney Jeremy Tedesco, “they are at risk of being prosecuted. The threat of enforcement is more than just credible.” Unlike bakery owner Jack Phillips, who Colorado bullied with similar charges, the Knapps are both ministers. And while their chapel is considered a “religious corporation,” even it isn’t safe from the same-sex “wedding” march that threatens to put the First Amendment asunder.
FRC warned this moment was coming, but even we didn’t expect the government to move this quickly. “The other side insisted this would never happen — that pastors would not have to perform same-sex marriages,” ADF’s Tedesco told Fox News’s Todd Starnes. “The reality is — it’s already happening.” Government officials are making it clear that they’ll use their power to punish anyone who opposes the agenda of homosexual activists. It’s a scary turnaround for a nation founded on the same free exercise of religion, which is now punishable by six months in prison. When there are plenty of other options for homosexuals seeking a marriage license, why should they be able to use the power of government to force Christians to participate?
Eugene Volokh, in today’s Washington Post, tries to tackle this Left’s conundrum and agrees that there’s no way around the obvious: somebody’s rights have to give. “Compelling ministers 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… 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.”
Remember when President Obama sat down and told ABC News that “churches and other faith institutions are still gonna be able to make determinations about what their sacraments are — what they recognize”? Neither does he. Or, for that matter, the rest of his party, which is lighting the same-sex unity candle with the same match it’s taking to the Constitution.
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.
(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)
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