American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

Last week, I posted about a lawsuit filed by the owners of a wedding chapel, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Donald and Evelyn Knapp are ordained ministers who were threatened with sanction for violating a local nondiscrimination ordinance if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. They sued claiming application of the law against them violated their religious freedom rights.

Now, after giving it some thought, local officials have clarified that the law would not require the Knapps to perform marriages they find objectionable. In a letter to city officials, (via Religion Clause) the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations quotes the legal opinion that informed the decision.

“When they are performing a religious activity like marrying people, ministers have the right to choose which marriages they will solemnize. That’s why we don’t think the public accommodation law applies to ministers making choices about performing marriages. So, if the only service offered is a religious wedding ceremony performed by a minister, then the law would not apply. But that reasonable exception doesn’t change the general rule that businesses that open their doors to the public to provide services, including services related to weddings, cannot turn people away just because of who they are.”

Based upon these facts and findings, we believe the City of Coeur d’Alene Anti-Discrimination Ordinance due to the religious exemption is not at issue and is not impacted regarding performing weddings by ordained ministers at the Hitching Post Chapel in Coeur d’Alene.

This view emphasizes the fact that the services provided here are essentially religious services. Compared to the other question that arose last week, whether a *state magistrate* who objects to same-sex marriage is required to perform lawful civil ceremonies, the Coeur d’Alene decision seems based on an important distinction. On the other hand, will that line between religious and non-religious services always be so easy to discern? When it is tougher, who should decide on which side of that line a service falls?