Ministers Jailed For Refusing To Marry Gays?

Todd Starnes contends it’s a real threat:

Two Christian ministers who own an Idaho wedding chapel were told they had to either perform same-sex weddings or face jail time and up to a $1,000 fine, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers who own The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene. “Right now they are at risk of being prosecuted,” their ADF attorney, Jeremy Tedesco, told me. “The threat of enforcement is more than just credible.”

According to the lawsuit, the wedding chapel is registered with the state as a “religious corporation” limited to performing “one-man-one-woman marriages as defined by the Holy Bible.” But the chapel is also registered as a for-profit business – not as a church or place of worship – and city officials said that means the owners must comply with a local nondiscrimination ordinance.

Robert Tracinski is left breathless:

Heretics will be found out and forced to recant. No one ever expects the Secular Inquisition.

Dreher also freaks out. But Walter Olson cautions:

I will note that I have learned through hard experience not to run with stories from ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) or Todd Starnes without seeking additional corroboration. As a libertarian, I oppose subjecting this family business to any legal compulsion whatsoever, but it’s also important (as in the Dallas pastors case) to get the facts straight before feeding a panic.

James Peron’s understanding of the facts:

What is at issue is that the Hitching Post has been a business, open to the public, with no religious requirements for almost a century, and for most of the time ceremonies were conducted by justices of the peace, until the state abolished that office. The Knapps purchased the business in 1989 and continued to run it as a business, never as a religious institution. They performed non-religious ceremonies and happily allowed ministers of other faiths to perform services whether they were employees or not.

Whether or not it should be the case, anti-discrimination laws–which the ADF loves when it protects fundamentalists–cover private businesses, including this one.

Zack Ford looks at how the business has changed recently:

[T]he Hitching Post is a for-profit business, but with help from ADF, the Knapps have been gearing up for this challenge for some time by redefining their business in more religious terms. In fact, Hitching Post completely reincorporated with an entirely new business certificate just last month, which was authorized by Michael S. Oswald, an ADF attorney. Along with the new business was a new Operating Agreement, dated October 6, 2014, which enshrines all of the religious values offered in the complaint as part of the business. They similarly added a new Employee Policy and Customer Agreement stipulating that the Hitching Post will only perform unions “between one biological male and one biological female.” …

The city’s ordinance does provide an exemption for “religious corporations,” but the Hitching Post is not run by a church. ADF’s complaint does not claim that it is such a corporation, but argues that because the exemption is “broad” and exists for churches and church-run corporations, “the City has no legitimate basis for refusing to extend a religious exemption to the Knapps who are Christian ministers engaged in a religious function.” Nevertheless, the Knapps are still running a for-profit business that is providing a service (weddings) to one group of people and not to others that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in conflict with the ordinance.

Jeremy Hooper catches The Hitching Post changing their website:

Now that this business needs to make a case for “religious persecution,” they are pretending like they didn’t operate in the way that they totally used to operate. They are pretending like civil ceremonies and ceremonies outside of their own deeply held faith were never on the table so that they can make it seem like they have always been convicted in and committed to one specific kind of religious wedding. They have up and changed the rules that they themselves had laid out (i.e. no church, no faith, no problem) so that they can now make the case that they and their far-right spinmeisters are itching to make (i.e. only church, always church; we’re the victims).

One of several screenshots from Hooper:

Hitching Post

Stephen Miller is uninterested in such details:

LGBT activists of a progressive bent are making much of the fact that the Hitching Post changed its services following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Idaho. To my way of thinking, it makes no difference. People should be free to marry, including same-sex couples, and the government should not be forcing businesses owners, whether they be ministers or not, to perform services for same-sex weddings.

Eugene Volokh argues that the ministers have the law on their side:

Friday, the Knapps moved for a temporary restraining order, arguing that applying the anti-discrimination ordinance to them would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I think that has to be right: compelling them 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, or even from requiring drivers to display a slogan on their license plates (Wooley v. Maynard [1977]), 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. (If the minister is required to conduct a ceremony that contains religious language, that would violate the Establishment Clause as well.)

Burt Likko feels that we “really shouldn’t compel the Knapps to perform a ceremony that is contrary to their religion, even if it is in the context of a public accommodation”:

The level of intimacy involved in actually presiding over that ceremony is very high (as I know from having presided over weddings myself). I’m comfortable with a result that tells a same-sex couple, sorry, you can’t make this particular someone do this very thing, preside over a wedding ceremony, especially not if there are reasonable alternatives readily at hand, as I presume there are in a resort location like Coeur D’Alene.

My problem is that I don’t know where the line gets drawn. … The idea of, “If you’re open to the public, you’re open to the public so you have to serve the public” is a rule that I can get behind morally and intellectually, because a coherent rule can be made out of it. The idea of “If you have a personal religious objection to doing something you don’t have to do it” has moral appeal but I cannot conceive of how a non-arbitrary rule about what things are or aren’t included in a rule resulting from that concept. Maybe the rule just has to be arbitrary — but if that’s the case, then why not compel the Knapps to perform the wedding? Or, why not allow anyone to get away from any rule of any kind on the basis of claiming a religious objection?

Lawyers like it when there are coherent, understandable rules. Which is the principal reason why I don’t like the Knapps’ lawsuit — it makes the rules much blurrier, much less easy to understand.

I agree, and this case looks like a deliberate provocation. It’s relevant, I think, that the Knapps are perfectly willing to perform marriages for non-Christian faiths – which casts some doubt on the sincere religious belief argument. But in cases like these, I still favor maximal religious liberty – even for a public accommodation like this one because requiring individuals to perform a marriage ceremony against their beliefs is just something we don’t do in a liberal society. And look at the context: Idaho now has marriage equality. That’s huge – and our core goal must be to reassure those who disagree with us, that we’re seeking merely civil equality, and nothing else. These people were looking for a fight. Far preferable not to give them one.