The owners of an Idaho wedding chapel are striking back at local legislators who argue that they are required by law to marry same-sex couples. The chapel owners, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, have hired conservative law group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to file a lawsuit on their behalf after reportedly being threatened with "months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines," according to The Blaze. The Knapps have also sought a restraining order against local officials.
The issue cropped up on Friday when the Knapps refused to marry a same-sex couple in their chapel. Churches and religious institutions are legally permitted to accept or turn away wedding requests as they wish, but the Knapps do not wed couples in a church. Their chapel, Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel, is a for-profit business. As a result, local officials claim, they must abide by anti-discrimination laws that apply to all businesses in the area.
The Knapps take issue with this. They are outspoken Christians and claim their ceremonies are highly religious in nature. Wedding services at the chapel include prayers and Bible readings. Neither of the Knapps support same-sex marriage, and they say the city’s policy amounts to punishing them for their religious beliefs.
“The government exists to protect and respect our freedoms, not attack them,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco says. “The city cannot erase these fundamental freedoms and replace them with government coercion and intolerance.”
Tedesco and the ADF legal team says the Knapps risk fines and jail time every time they turn away a same-sex couple. This, ADF attorney Jonathan Scruggs says, is tantamount to asking the Knapps to “flip a switch” on their faith.
“The city somehow expects ordained pastors to flip a switch and turn off all faithfulness to their God and their vows,” Scruggs says in an ADF news release. “The U.S. Constitution as well as federal and state law clearly stand against that. 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.”
The Knapps are not seeking damages from their lawsuit, but are instead requesting that the following rights be honored:
“The Knapps and Hitching Post Weddings retain the right to chose the content of their expression, to promote religious messages they choose, to participate in religious ceremonies they choose, and to exercise their religion by performing religious ceremonies in their capacities as ordained ministers and by operating their ministry without having to suffer jail time, fines, sensitivity training, and other arbitrary limitations on those rights.”