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Why Are These Pastors Being Threatened With Fines of $1,000 Per Day?

Why Are These Pastors Being Threatened With Fines of $1,000 Per Day?

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly recently spoke on same-sex marriage on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday." | (Photo: Twitter/Jim Daly)

Meet Donald and Evelyn Knapp.

Both in their late 60s, the Knapps have owned and operated the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho since 1989. In that time, they've performed more than 34,000 weddings. The chapel is conveniently located across from the Kootenai County Clerk's office, which issues marriage licenses.

The Knapps are more than wedding chapel owners, though. They're also ordained ministers from the Foursquare Church, an evangelical denomination. They take the tenets of their faith and denomination seriously, including the belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.

In fact, they've turned down numerous requests over the years to perform same-sex ceremonies, including one as recently as October 17.

And that's when their "troubles" began.

The city of Coeur d'Alene has a public accommodations law that pits the Knapps' constitutional religious freedoms against newly created rights based on sexual orientation. The city recently informed the Knapps that under that law, they would have to perform same-sex ceremonies if and when such unions became legal in Idaho.

A couple weeks ago, that happened when the federal courts imposed same-sex marriage on the state, and county clerks began issuing licenses on October 15.

The city's public accommodations ordinance does not include a religious exemption for Christians like the Knapps, making it a crime for them to stand on religious principles concerning marriage. For each day they refuse to perform a same-sex ceremony, they are subject to fines of up to $1000 and 180 days in jail. So if they refuse for a week, they face a fine of $7000 and more than three years in jail. If they refuse for a year, they could go to jail for 180 years and be fined $365,000.

By comparison, if you were found guilty of assault with intent to commit murder in Idaho, your maximum sentence could only be 14 years.

Since the Knapps were forewarned by the city that non-compliance would be dealt with as a criminal offense under the city ordinance, they enlisted the help of our friends at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and filed a federal lawsuit in Idaho on October 17. A court hearing will be held soon on the couple's request for a court order preventing the city from prosecuting them under the ordinance.

Idaho officials are defending their pursuit of the Knapps based upon the fact the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is not a traditional church. They contend that because the Knapps live off the proceeds they realize from the wedding ceremonies they perform, they should be subject to the city's public accommodations ordinance.

I couldn't disagree more strongly.

People of faith do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and religion when they go into business. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that again recently in the Hobby Lobby decision last June. The Knapps are protected by the 1st Amendment as well as Idaho's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the type of statute that protected Hobby Lobby from a government law that violated a business owner's religious conviction.

Public accommodations laws that elevate homosexual behavior to a protected status have been used to punish churches, wedding photographers, bakers, florists, wedding venues, faith-based adoption agencies, and even t-shirt makers in various states for refusing to participate in or promote an event or message that violated their conscience.

Promoters of same-sex marriage assured us that pastors and ministers would not be coerced to perform same-sex weddings. We were skeptical for good reason, as it turned out. But as we're also seeing in Houston (where several pastors are feeling the full weight of government harassment for opposing a city law like Coeur d'Alene's), government coercion is becoming the unfortunate reality.

As Christians who faithfully accept and interpret God's Word as written, we're bound by Scripture and what it says regarding sexuality, marriage and family. However well-intentioned, there is no "third way" on the issue for Christians – only God's, and His way is clear.

Our country was founded on the right to live according to our deeply held religious convictions. Recent events indicate that many in positions of power would like to see these rights eroded, if not obliterated.

In your estimation, how should these pastors in Idaho and Houston respond? And do you agree with me that people of faith don't forfeit their freedoms of speech and religion when they go into business?

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its National Radio Hall of Fame-honored daily broadcast, heard by more than 2.9 million listeners a week on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S. Follow Jim Daly on Twitter @DalyfocusFollow Jim Daly on FacebookFollow Jim Daly's blog at DalyFocus

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