Transparent Trickery: Claims Of ‘Persecution’ In Idaho Fail To Sway Court

ADF’s stunt was extremely transparent. It had two goals: One, exempt the Hitching Post from having to perform same-sex marriages and two, try to create a case in which a Christian ministry was being persecuted for its beliefs.

Another stunt by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has collapsed after a federal court said that an Idaho wedding venue, which refused to perform same-sex weddings, is not being persecuted because it is already exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

This case involves Don and Evelyn Knapp, owners of the Hitching Post in Coeur d’Alene. The Knapps are ordained ministers in the Four Square Gospel and they claim their religious beliefs prohibit them from performing same-sex weddings – even though their facility was a for-profit business at the time this all took place.

ADF, a large, Arizona-based Religious Right legal group that represents the couple, claimed in 2014 that the Knapps were set upon by city officials who warned them that they would have to abide by a local non-discrimination ordinance. The ADF claimed that the couple was threatened with fines and jail time.

All of that turned out to be false. There is no evidence the Knapps were ever actually asked to perform a same-sex wedding. The Coeur d’Alene Press reported as much, adding that the Knapps were never threatened with arrest, either.

City officials did tell the couple about the anti-discrimination ordinance, and informed them that if they did not register the chapel as a non-profit religious corporation instead of a money-making business, they would fall under the terms of the ordinance.  

But the Knapps began claiming that thier business had been reorgniazed as something called a "religious corporation" that would not fall under the ordinance. City officials looked into the matter and agreed. That should have been the end of this story, but it never is when the Religious Right is involved.

Prior to this brouhaha, the Hitching Post never claimed to be a ministry. In fact, a passage from its website that was quietly removed in 2014 said the venue offered a variety of religious-themed weddings as well as secular civil services. There was no indication anywhere that this business was a “ministry” or even a "religious corporation" until this manufactured controversy came along.

But the owners of the Hitching Post claimed they were being bullied by Idaho officials who were forcing a Christian group to violate its sincerely held beliefs.

The matter ended up in court, and this week, a federal judge tossed almost all of ADF’s claims, noting the Hitching Post was deteremined to be exempt from the ordinance.

The court did offer the Hitching Post one tiny concession: The group is free to pursue a lawsuit for any lost business incurred during the one day the Knapps chose to close it out of fear that it would have to perform same-sex marriages. That’s it.  

ADF’s stunt was extremely transparent. It had two goals: One, exempt the Hitching Post from having to perform same-sex marriages and two, try to create a case in which a Christian ministry was being persecuted for its beliefs.

The court isn’t buying it. Despite the Religious Right’s best efforts to claim pastors will be fined or hauled off to jail for refusing to preside at same-sex marriages, that simply has not happened. Not once. And it never will because the First Amendment protects the right of all pastors to decide which marriages they will and will not perform.

If the Knapps want to run a ministry, then they are free to marry or not marry any couple they choose. That is their right. But a for-profit business plays by different rules. This was a phony case from the beginning and we’re glad a federal judge saw through this pathetic plot to once again pretend that America’s vast Christian majority is somehow a persecuted group.

Editor's Note: After this post ran, we heard from Greg Scott at the ADF who pointed out that the Hitching Post had reorganized as a "religious corporation" and not a non-profit as we reported. Scott said, "Our argument is no minister  performing weddings, even if they charge a small fee to perform the ceremony, should be punished by the government to perform a wedding that is counter to biblical teaching on marriage."

AU's view is that for-profit businesses, even those run by religious people, are distinct from tax-exempt ministries and may be subject to local non-discrimination laws.