Idaho Pastors Face Jail Time, Thousands in Fines for Not Performing Gay Weddings
Two ordained Christian pastors in Idaho have filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for temporarily restraining Coeur d'Alene city officials from forcing them to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or face prosecution for violating "non-discrimination" laws.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit and the motion on behalf of Donald Knapp and his wife, Evelyn, who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel and have been required by city officials to perform gay ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines.
The city says its non-discrimination ordinance requires them to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies because the courts have overridden Idaho's voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
"The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines," ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement.
"Many have denied 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," Tedesco added. "The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple's freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended."
The city is "unconstitutionally coercing" the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies "in violation of their religious beliefs, their ordination vows, and their consciences," the lawsuit states.
The couple, both in their 60s, can either violate their religious convictions and ministerial vows by performing gay wedding ceremonies or follow their religious convictions and vows by declining to perform such ceremonies and face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, it adds.
"Worse, each day the Knapps decline to perform a requested same-sex wedding ceremony, they commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor, subject to the same penalties. Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000," the lawsuit explains.
"The government exists to protect and respect our freedoms, not attack them," Tedesco underlined. "The city cannot erase these fundamental freedoms and replace them with government coercion and intolerance."
It seems the city expects ordained pastors to "flip a switch and turn off all faithfulness to their God and their vows," ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said. "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."
Compelling the couple to "speak words in ceremonies that they think are immoral is an unconstitutional speech compulsion," Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, wrote in an op-ed piece on the case for The Washington Post.
"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, 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."