ACLU Won’t Pursue Legal Action Against Idaho Wedding Chapel, Says It Provides Religious Services

ACLU Won’t Pursue Legal Action Against Idaho Wedding Chapel, Says It Provides Religious Services October 25, 2014

The ACLU has declined to pursue legal action against The Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho because the chapel only provides religious services.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp, owners of the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel, were facing possible jail time and enormous fines that would have put them out of business because they do not offer same sex wedding services at their facility. The Knapps are ordained ministers in the International Church of the Four Square Gospel. The denomination’s teaching holds that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Leo Morales, ACLU Idaho’s interim director said Thursday that the organization would reconsider the decision not to sue “if the chapel were to offer secular services, such as providing flowers or cakes, or holding nonreligious ceremonies.”

While I am glad that the ACLU has decided not to pursue this case, Mr Morales’ caveats constitute an attempt to impose an undue limitation of First Amendment rights by threat of lawsuit. Are churches going to be forced to forgo all sales on their premises or the use of their facilities for “non-religious” purposes or face lawsuits trying to shut them down?

Does this mean that churches who open their buildings for AA meetings or hold bake sales to raise money for a new gym are running the risk of being drug into court?

For that matter, what about allowing church buildings to be used as polling places? Do you want to raise your taxes to build government facilities for elections in every precinct in this country? Or maybe, in small towns, we could just put the voting booths out in a field. I am quite certain that a failure to provide sufficient and accessible polling places constitutes a violation of the core Constitutional right of this nation: To engage in free elections.

I’m glad that the ACLU actually did something that appears to be in support of the First Amendment, but I’m extremely leery of them or any other organization using the threat of lawsuit to limit First Amendment rights in the way Mr Morales seemed to be attempting to do.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal firm defending the Knapps, says that the ACLU is “terrified … that the ordinance has been used in exactly the way we said it would be. The ACLU wants nothing to do with the worst possible set of facts that could result from one of these ordinances.” The ordinance Mr Tedesco is referring to is the non-discrimination ordinance by which the Knapps were being threatened.

From The Blaze:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho announced Thursday that it will not wage a legal challenge against Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, the for-profit business in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that could be in violation of a local non-discrimination ordinance for its ardent refusal to marry same-sex couples.

Leo Morales, the ACLU’s interim executive director, said that chapel owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp — both ordained ministers — recently changed their business status to become a “religious corporation,” according to the Associated Press.

Morales made these comments during a press conference Thursday, noting that the newdesignation would likely exempt the family from performing gay marriage ceremonies so long as Hitching Post — which will remain a for-profit business — exclusively performs faith-based weddings.

“As long as a entity is conducting a religious activity, that is accepted. That should be accepted under the nondiscrimination law in Coeur d’Alene,” Morales told TheBlaze Friday. “Once that entity begins to offer other services that are secular services, we believe it then falls under the category of public accommodation.”

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16 responses to “ACLU Won’t Pursue Legal Action Against Idaho Wedding Chapel, Says It Provides Religious Services”

  1. So, in short, nothing bad is going to happen to these folks, but you are still upset about the situation.

  2. I am concerned about the arrogant implications in the list of limitations that the ACLU director seems to feel that a religious organization should abide by.

  3. The best thing christians can do to ensure first amendment protections for christians is to demand first amendment protections for everyone.

  4. The prophet hath spoken. “Nothing bad is going to happen to these folks.” Do you know something we don’t – such as what is cooking in the nauseous kitchens that baked up that ordnance in the first place? ACLU have only said that they will not do anything until they have an excuse. As soon as someone testifies that the Hitching Post sold them a bag of peanuts, KA-BOOM!

  5. Our church basement is being rented out for a completely non religious purpose but we need the money for repairs; are we going to be sued and forced to close? It’s a catholic church.

  6. This is still a threatening situation. A chilling effect has been placed on every person – who in fact has a solid constitutional right to practice their religion – because some people want to relegate the first amendment to third class protection after discrimination laws.

    Anytime constitutional protections are ignored or minimized, people should get upset.

  7. They aren’t involved. Neither is the DA actually. Everyone has told them that if they are operating as a religious corporation nobody will object to anything. A national group tried to get some press by suing the city on behalf of the Hitching Post.

  8. As an atheist, I would defend your right to limit the use of church property however you see fit. I would defend your right to practice your religion and stand beside you if you were told that you must perform a religious ceremony. I think the church that kicked out AA was fear mongering.

    The only qualification I would make is if the church had a property apart from church buildings that they truly operated as a business. For example a hotel and conference center that looks and acts like any other hotel and accepts a variety of groups regardless of content shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate.

    On the other hand, a church retreat center that is rented out for groups for spiritual renewal is part of the religious mission, even if some of the groups accepted aren’t catholic or even christian.

    In exchange, I would appreciate it if christians would speak up now and then when schools try to get all students to pray to the christian god at assemblies, football games and so forth.

  9. For discussion:

    I think that for profit business (not those providing a religious service) can select the product they will sell, but cannot choose its customers or how the product is used.

    An atheist vegan baker can choose to sell only vegan cakes. They can refuse to add carmelized bacon to their cakes – they do not sell meat. They can refuse to make the cake with eggs – they don’t use eggs. They can control the product they make.

    However, they cannot refuse to sell a cake because the customer will serve it at a BBQ or at a christian church. They have no right to limit who can purchase the products they sell or what is done with it after the sale.

  10. ok, thanks that seems fair; and yes if you just happen to own say a big Hilton downtown but don’t operate it as a retreat or a church then of course all laws must be followed; the concern for believers is that the private sphere will shrink to the point where anything not directly religious will be exploited by ppl who don’t really care about “equality” but hate christianity and there seem to be alot of ppl out there like that.

    i think praying to christ is ok if most ppl want to do it BUT those who don’t should be allowed to be excused; if the area is very atheists the same would imply for them so they could say a few words praising their worldview and the christians should be allowed to not participate.

  11. I guess I won’t look for your help. Thanks anyway.

    I have no problem with people praying. At all. I have a problem with the government directing my children to pray to someone else’s god

    Let’s say the majority in your town were southern baptist, with catholics in the minority. Does the first grade teacher get to exercise her religious rights while being paid by the taxpayer and tell your child that she needs to say the sinner’s prayer to be “once saved always saved” because her church isn’t a real church?

    Does the football coach have a right to exercise his religious rights while being paid by the taxpayer and tell your child that “Real men don’t pray to no virgin.”

    Having the government stay neutral on religion works.

  12. I actually think the Dutch model in Holland is something we should look to. There the Gov pays for all religious schools muslim jewish catholic protestant etc etc. and every gets to exercise their beliefs and of course you know holland is the most liberal country on earth.

  13. Well that’s just it where do my parish’s rights end and where do the rights of a tiny tiny group begin? are we saying that a 100+year parish has no more rights to self determination bc 2 ppl who don’t go to the church who don’t live in the area who don’t care about the ppl in the area simply insist on forcing something onto someone else? Sometimes the implications can seem downright frightening especially when you consider the immense power this group has.

  14. I hadn’t heard about the call from Massachusetts. But a quick search showed that pretty much everyone blew this person off. Probably because the person was a little “off”. These people exist on all sides of any issue.

    This became a legal issue when a national organization sued the city on behalf of the business before anything had happened. The city’s response was more or less “Wow. What left field did this come out of? We were having friendly conversations about how anti-discrimination laws would not apply to the Hitching Post if they took some basic legal steps.”

    The national group is trying to turn the Hitching Post into a persecuted christian business, but the city and the ACLU just aren’t cooperating.

    I don’t resent christians, and I try to be honest. I don’t resent the 8 or so churches with large crosses near my home. A couple are very pretty. A couple have nice garage sales now and then and sell great christmas trees. One plays bells now and then – very nice. I don’t resent the christmas music already playing in stores (even though it is still October!). I do not resent any personal expression of belief. I value the fact that people in the US can express religious beliefs honestly and openly. Please don’t put words into my mouth.

    However, I do resent discrimination and I resent it when people try to use our secular government to promote their religion. I personally believe it is wrong for a secular business to reject customers because they don’t like some aspect of the customer – skin tone, religion, orientation, divorce status, or whatever. Also, I am absolutely opposed to using government authority, property or resources to promote one religion over others. I’m think I’m pretty consistent on those points.