Hitching Post Chapel
(Photo : Alliance Defending Freedom)

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, Christian ministers who own a wedding chapel in Idaho, were threatened with a jail sentence and $1,000 fine for refusing to host a same-sex wedding. The couple filed a lawsuit on Friday against the city of Coeur D’Alene on the basis that it violates their First Amendment rights and Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The original legal threat to the couple came as a result of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

Though the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel was registered with the state as a religious corporation, it was obligated to follow the city’s non-discrimination ordinance when same-sex marriage became legally acknowledged in the state because it is a for-profit business. However, the lawyers defending the plaintiffs argued that this places an undue burden on the couple, as every time that they refuse to host a same-sex wedding, the jail sentence and fine will continually increase.

“If the Knapps refuse to perform one same-sex ceremony for a year, they risk going to jail for 180 years and being fined $365,000,” the lawsuit argues.

“The Knapps thus 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 lawsuit continues. “But the First Amendment does not allow the government to force regular citizens or religious corporations, much less ordained ministers, to make this choice.”

“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,” said Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), representing the Knapps.

Critics of the Knapp couple argue that they should simply stop their for-profit business and “start a church.” The Knapps said that they would prefer to close their business if they were required to violate their religious beliefs.

“I think the Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is not his way, and therefore I cannot unite people in a way that I believe would conflict with what the Bible teaches,” Donald Knapp told KXLY-TV.

Eugene Volokh, who teaches at UCLA’s School of Law, wrote in a Washington Post piece, “Requiring them [the Knapps] to violate their beliefs (or close their business) is a substantial burden on their religious practice.”

“And I find it hard to see a compelling government interest in barring sexual orientation discrimination by ministers officiating in a chapel,” Volokh continued. “Whatever interests there may be in equal access to jobs, to education, or even in most public accommodations, I don’t see how there would be a ‘compelling’ government interest in preventing discrimination in the provision of ceremonies, especially ceremonies conducted by ministers in chapels.”