Free to Believe

Donald and Evelyn Knapp

The Hitching Post: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

In May of 2014, a federal district court judge struck down Idaho’s state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Donald and Evelyn Knapp—a husband and wife team of ministers who operate a wedding chapel in Couer d’Alene, Idaho known as The Hitching Post—told a reporter they could not in good conscience perform any same-sex weddings. The Coeur d’Alene City Attorney, however, warned that such a policy might violate a local non-discrimination ordinance, saying “I would think that the Hitching Post would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.”

The court’s ruling was put on hold while under appeal, but Donald Knapp reported in August, “I have spoken to a city attorney and he said that if the ruling comes down unfavorably toward my way of thinking that I would be required to do those weddings or be fined and imprisoned for up to 180 days.” After 47 years of marriage and 25 years of owning The Hitching Post wedding chapel, Donald and Evelyn were faced with a situation neither of them previously thought possible: being imprisoned for their faith. 

All appeals of the marriage ruling were rejected, and in October 2014 same-sex marriages began in Idaho. The Knapps reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), concerned that their chapel would be targeted.  Less than a week later, the battle was at their front door.  On October 17, the Knapps declined to perform a wedding for a same-sex couple and their attorneys filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order. According to ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, "Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that's what is happening here—and it's happened this quickly. The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple's freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended."

Because of their decision, the Knapps faced the possibility of up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for every day the ministers refuse to perform the ceremony.

"The city somehow expects ordained pastors to flip a switch and turn off all faithfulness to their God and their vows," explained ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. "The U.S. Constitution as well as federal and state law clearly stand against that. The city cannot mandate across-the-board conformity to its interpretation of a city ordinance in utter disregard for the guaranteed freedoms Americans treasure in our society."

After a public outcry, the City Attorney reportedly reversed ground, and he and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (which helped create the non-discrimination ordinance) said that as a “religious corporation,” the Knapps were exempt from the law. ADF, however, said that the shifting statements from the city did not provide a firm enough foundation to vindicate the Knapps’ rights, and continued to pursue the lawsuit. On July 20, 2015, a hearing in the case was held in federal district court.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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