A case between Christians who run a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and the city over its demand that they perform same-sex “weddings” in violation of their faith is headed back to a judge after negotiations between the parties failed.
WND previously reported the negotiations between the city and the Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a complaint against the city on behalf of Hitching Post wedding chapel owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp.
An ADF spokesman told WND the discussions did not yield a resolution.
“The government can’t tell ministers they must perform same-sex marriages under threat of jail time and crippling fines,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.
“That’s exactly what the city did to Pastor Knapp and what the ordinance allows the city to do to others. In the absence of a settlement agreement, we look forward to vindicating our client’s freedom in court.”
The case stems from an ordinance adopted in 2013 prohibiting “discrimination” based on sexual orientation. It applies to housing, employment and “public accommodation.” While religious entities are exempt, city officials have said operations such as the wedding chapel would be forced under threat of penalty to submit.
WND reported in October the city had tried several “litigation tactics” to get out of the case. At the time, the city was backing away from its threats of fines and jail for the two Christian ministers who refuse to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post, a commercial business.
But ADF said the core problem remained that the Knapps were subject to criminal fines and jail sentences if they failed to comply with the city’s social agenda.
The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported the federal lawsuit alleges the city is trying to unconstitutionally force the ministers to violate their religious beliefs by performing same-sex marriages.
The Knapps believe marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. The lawsuit alleges, “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 case alleges the city is violating the couple’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
ADF said the solution is a clarification of the ordinance.
“They need to clarify who the law applies to and who it doesn’t,” Tedesco said at the time. “You’ve got a criminal law that allows for jail time and fines. It cannot be vague. People can’t be left guessing whether they will be subject to the ordinance.”
In an interview, Idaho state Sen. Steve Vick said the case was so egregious that he would eliminate the state government from marriage entirely.
“It’s very disappointing to me that they would require a Christian business owner to do something that violates their religious convictions, which I believe are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Vick said. “Most of the reaction that I incurred has been from disappointment to shock that [the city] would do that.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Idaho state Sen. Steve Vick:
Vick warned that the next step “will be to say that churches themselves cannot discriminate,” and they will be forced “to marry same-sex couples and not be allowed to say anything.”
The same problem already is cascading across America, with similar cases in New Mexico, Colorado and Washington state.
In Washington, a florist is facing financial “ruin” for declining to support same-sex “marriage” with her artistic talents.
As WND reported, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom authorized the state and the homosexual plaintiffs to pursue the business and personal assets of Barronelle Stutzman, including her home, in payment of damages and attorneys’ fees.
Ekstrom granted a summary judgment against the Christian florist, although an appeal is under way.
“The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner said at the time.
“The two men had no problem getting the flowers they wanted,” she said. “They received several offers for free flowers, and the marketplace gives them plenty of options. Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people – to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage.”
In response to a settlement offer relayed through a news release from Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Stutzman was blunt.
She told Ferguson in a letter posted online: “Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
She continued: “Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver.
“That is something I will not do.”
Ferguson did not respond to a WND request for comment.
In a news release, Ferguson had said he would settle the state case against Stutzman for $2,001. That amounted to $2,000 in penalties under the Consumer Protection Act plus $1 for costs and fees.
But he also demanded “an agreement not to discriminate in the future.”
“I pray that you reconsider your position,” Stutzman told Ferguson. “I kindly served [plaintiff Rob Ingersoll] for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case.
“You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.”