What's at stake
The freedom to live consistently with one’s religious beliefs
The freedom of ministers to decline to officiate same-sex weddings that violate their religious beliefs
Donald and Evelyn Knapp have been happily married for 47 years. They are both ordained Christian ministers who believe that biblical marriage is good for society. The Knapps believe that God has called them to promote the welfare of their community by uniting others in marriage – in fact, they have officiated thousands of weddings and seen countless lives blessed through the good of marriage.
It was this sense of calling that inspired the Knapps to begin operating the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 1989. The purpose of the wedding chapel is “to help people create, celebrate, and build lifetime monogamous, one-man one-woman marriages as defined by the Holy Bible.” Because their religious beliefs affect everything they do, the Knapps only perform wedding ceremonies consistent with their religious beliefs.
In 2013, Coeur d’Alene adopted an ordinance that prohibits a “public accommodation” from denying “any person because of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, the full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges of any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, or amusement.” Each day and each occurrence that a person is in violation of the ordinance constitutes a separate misdemeanor offense punishable “by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1000.00), or by imprisonment not to exceed one hundred eighty (180) days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”
On May 13, 2014, a district court ruled against Idaho’s laws affirming marriage and required that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples. Shortly thereafter, City officials in Coeur d’Alene made multiple public statements indicating that the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel was a public accommodation and would be subject to the ordinance if its ministers declined to perform a same-sex wedding. Don Knapp learned of these statements, became deeply concerned, and called the City on two separate occasions to confirm whether The Hitching Post would violate the ordinance if they declined to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The City responded both times that they were subject to the ordinance and its penalties. The district court’s order had been on hold for several months, but on October 7, 2014, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and Idaho was ordered to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on October 15, 2014.
Because the city threatened the Knapps with application of the law and because the Knapps will not violate their religious beliefs, the Knapps faced 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.
Because of the great threat to the Knapps’ religious freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the city.
The City initially responded to the lawsuit by confirming that the Knapps were subject to the ordinance because they ran a for-profit business. After a few days of intense public outcry and media scrutiny, however, the city changed its position and said that it will not apply the policy against the Hitching Post. But the city has not made any change to the law to protect the Knapps or other owners of for-profit businesses who want to live and work consistently with their religious beliefs; therefore, the lawsuit is ongoing.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Donald and Evelyn Knapp and filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf. The case is ongoing.