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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ministers Fight Same-Sex Marriage Law

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Only two days after same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho, two ministers in Coeur d'Alene claim in court that the city is threatening them with jail if they don't perform same-sex ceremonies.

Donald Knapp, 68, and Evelyn Knapp, 66, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Coeur d'Alene on Friday in Federal Court. The married couple claim the city does not have the right to force them to perform the ceremonies.

The Knapps are ordained ministers in The Foursquare Church, also known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, an 8-million strong international Protestant evangelical church founded in 1923.

The Knapps have been part of the church since the 1960's, serving in numerous Foursquare Churches in the Northwest.

They have owned The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel since 1989. Just 300 feet down the street from the Kootenai County Clerk's office, the chapel has often been the next stop for couples obtaining their marriage licenses.

But that could change.

The Knapps say they are stuck between a rock and a hard place because of the ordinance the City Council passed by 5-1 vote on June 4, 2013: it bars sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations.

Before the City Council vote, Councilman Steven Adams said: "Inevitably the ordinance will be used as a sword more than a shield," according to the complaint.

But Councilwoman Deanna Goodlander said at the time that the law sends a message that, "intolerance does not belong in Coeur d Alene."

The chapel, which does business as (co-plaintiff) Hitching Post Weddings, is subject to the discrimination law, city ordinance §9.56. Violations can cost up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail for each offense.

"The Knapps don't want to disobey the law," the complaint states.

"But the Knapps do not want to shut down Hitching Post Weddings LLC either. This business provides their primary source of income. Without this income, the Knapps would have to change careers and find another source of income to survive."

The Knapps claims the threat of punishment violates the constitutionally protected religious freedom.

"The Knapps ... face an impossible choice: Suffer escalating fines and jail time for following their religious beliefs and ordination vows or forsake their religious beliefs and ordination vows and perform same-sex wedding ceremonies," the complaint states. "But the First Amendment does not allow the government to force regular citizens or religious corporations, much less ordained ministers, to make this choice."

They claim the city is violating their rights under the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments, and Idaho's Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act.

"This case is about the City of Coeur d'Alene unconstitutionally coercing two Christian ministers ... to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies ... in violation of their religious beliefs, their ordination vows and their consciences," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say that though they do not want to be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, that does not mean they hate homosexuals.

"While the Knapps believe all forms of sexual immorality are contrary to God's will, they also believe that all people are created in God's image and therefore all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

The 63-page lawsuit complaint continues: "The Knapps believe Jesus commanded Christians to love their neighbors. Accordingly, the Knapps exhibit love toward every person they meet and treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are, regardless of their sexual orientations and regardless of whether they act in ways the Knapps consider contrary to God's word."

Evelyn Knapp told Courthouse News Service on Monday that she could not comment on the issue now that it has gone to litigation. An after-hours call to plaintiffs' attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom was not immediately returned.

The Knapps seek a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the city from enforcing §9.56 of its discrimination law, and declaratory judgment that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Their lead counsel is Virginia McNulty Robinson, of Coeur d'Alene.

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