The owners of The Hitching Post wedding chapel filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Coeur d’Alene on Friday, claiming the city is unconstitutionally forcing them to violate their religious beliefs by performing same-sex marriages.
Owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp say in the lawsuit that they believe marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.
“Performing same-sex wedding ceremonies would thus force the Knapps to condone, promote and even consecrate something forbidden by their religious beliefs and ordination vows,” the suit states.
The city passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2013. It applies to housing, employment and “public accommodation.” Religious entities are exempt from the ordinance. But in May, city attorney Warren Wilson told The Spokesman-Review that The Hitching Post, which is a for-profit business, likely would be required to follow the ordinance. According to the lawsuit, a man called the business Friday to ask about a same-sex wedding ceremony and was turned down. The Knapps now are asking for a temporary restraining order against the city to stop it from enforcing the ordinance. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time.
“The Knapps are thus under a constant, coercive and substantial threat to violate their religious beliefs due to the risk that they will incur the penalties of jail time and criminal fines for declining to speak a message and perform a wedding service that contradicts their religious beliefs and ministerial vows,” the suit states.
When reached by phone late Friday afternoon, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said he was not aware of the lawsuit and had no comment.
The city’s ordinance is a violation of the couple’s First and Fourteenth amendment rights and a violation of the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was filed by Georgia- and Arizona-based attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom in partnership with Coeur d’Alene attorney Virginia McNulty Robinson. The group’s website defines ADF as a “legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.”
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