Two Christian ministers have been told if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings, they could be subject to a $1,000 fine or time in jail, according to a federal lawsuit
filed last week.
Attorneys from the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) responded by filing a suit against the City of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on behalf of Donald and Evelyn Knapp, the Christian owners of the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel.
The ADF also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order
to prevent the city from enforcing a nondiscrimination ordinance passed in 2013.
The federal lawsuit was filed on Oct. 17, the same day that the Knapps received a request from a same-sex couple to perform a wedding. They declined 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, according to the ADF.
In May, Idaho's ban on gay marriages was struck down by a federal judge. At the time of the ruling, City Attorney Warren Wilson said he believed the ordinance was "broad enough that it would capture (wedding) activity," reported The Spokesman-Review
. But it was not until last week that the issue of compliance with the ordinance became front page news.
"Many have denied the idea that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here – and it’s happened this quickly,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“The city cannot mandate across-the-board conformity to its interpretation of a city ordinance in utter disregard for the guaranteed freedoms Americans treasure in our society,” said Jonathan Scruggs, ADF legal counsel, added.
City officials, however, contend the Knapps were not threatened with jail time.
"We have never threatened to jail them, or take legal action of any kind," said city spokesman Keith Erickson in an interview with the Coeur d'Alene Press
He added that if a complaint against the Knapps were to be filed, the city would "take whatever action is necessary."
According to the Press, City Attorney Mike Gridley confirmed in a letter to the ADF that he spoke with the Knapps and told them because they are not registered as a religious organization, they likely would be in violation of the ordinance.
In the Oct. 6 letter, Gridley wrote that the legitimate nonprofit religious corporations, associations, or groups would not be prosecuted for exercising their First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit claims that the ordinance constitutes a violation of the couple’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act.
At issue is the scope of an ordinance passed on June 4, 2013 by the Coeur d’Alene City Council that aimed to prevent discrimination in areas of employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and housing, solely based on “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression," according to the Coeur d'Alene Press
As more states begin to permit same-sex marriages, opponents are looking to state legislatures to provide exemptions to religiously-affiliated groups and individual business owners, like the Knapps.
“When the judiciary does it, they don’t do the kind of balancing that legislatures tend to do,” Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, a conservative group which has organized legislative caucuses in 20 states, told The Crux
, a Catholic newspaper.
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