Christian Owners of Idaho Wedding Chapel Are Exempt from Discrimination Law

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of the Hitching Post Chapel.
Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of the Hitching Post Chapel.

Husband-and-wife Pentecostal ministers who own a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, refused to marry same-sex couples after a recent court ruling, and the American Civil Liberties Union says that’s OK — as long as the chapel only operates as a religious establishment.

The couple’s conservative attorneys insist that Donald and Evelyn Knapp’s Hitching Post wedding chapel remains a for-profit business, and they should be able to turn gay couples away.

In fact, they already have, including twice in the last week.

The dispute is the latest front in an ongoing debate over whether for-profit wedding businesses must cater to same-sex couples in accordance with local anti-discrimination laws. In recent days, that fight just got more confusing.

On Thursday (Oct. 23), the ACLU of Idaho unexpectedly sided with the Knapps. Leo Morales, the group’s interim executive director, said he won’t pursue legal action because the Hitching Post only provides religious services and is exempted from the local ordinance.

Morales said the ACLU would reconsider its stance if the chapel were to offer secular services, such as providing flowers or cakes, or holding nonreligious ceremonies.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative group representing the couple in a lawsuit against the city, said the Hitching Post is not a nonprofit religious organization like a church, but rather is a religious for-profit limited liability company like a Bible publisher.

Greg Scott, an ADF spokesman, said police in Coeur d’Alene called the couple on Thursday to investigate a possible violation of the city’s 2013 anti-discrimination ordinance.

City police received a call from a married individual in Massachusetts complaining that she wanted to have a ceremony at the Hitching Post but was refused, according to a police report. Police called the owners as part of their standard procedure, said Keith Erickson, a city spokesperson.

“As a religious organization, they are exempt from our anti-discrimination law. They are for-profit.” Erikcson said. “We’re asking them to dismiss this federal lawsuit. It has no merit because the ordinance doesn’t apply to them.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey

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