Friday, October 24, 2014

City of Coeur d'Arlene, ID: Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is Free to Discriminate Against Gay Couples

Here is the case that's really gotten under my skin this week. I got into a huge back-and-forth over on GCN about whether or not LGBT people are worthy of being protected from discrimination because of this case. More on that later.

Anyway, earlier this week, the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Arlene, ID, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom. The for-profit commercial wedding chapel is suing over a local public nondiscrimination ordinance that bars local businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation -- as well as race, gender, religion, etc. The chapel's owners claimed that they were being persecuted by the city and facing thousands of dollars in fines and time in jail because of this ordinance and because of anti-Christian gay activists who wanted them to violate their faith.

Keep in mind that nobody filed a complaint against the chapel -- at least not until late this week after lots and lots of publicity. They weren't being threatened though the owners and their attorneys have been in contact with city officials for months trying to find out if they were affected or not by this ordinance. They scrubbed their website to eliminate evidence that they had previously been open to non-Christian and non-religious weddings. They also began the process of updating their business model so that they are actually exempt from the ordinance by becoming a non-profit and/or religious organization. And then they filed the federal lawsuit.

Guess what? The city of Coeur d'Arlene has determined that they are exempt from the city's nondiscrimination law -- making this whole lawsuit pointless:
The city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, says the Hitching Post, a for-profit wedding chapel owned by two ministers, doesn't have to perform same-sex marriages. The city has been embroiled in controversy ever since the owners of the Hitching Post sued the city. They say a city anti-discrimination law threatened to force them to marry same-sex couples now that gay marriage is legal in Idaho...

Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d'Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt. But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.

After we've looked at this some more, we have come to the conclusion they would be exempt from our ordinance because they are a religious corporation,” Gridley explained. 

Court filings show the Hitching Post reorganized earlier this month as a “religious corporation.” In the paperwork, the owners describe their deeply held beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman... Filings with the Idaho Secretary of State show the Hitching Post became a limited liability company on September 12

Court documents in the Knapps’ federal lawsuit show they signed a business operating agreement on October 6 that lists the following as the purpose of their LLC: “The Hitching Post is a religious corporation owned solely by ordained ministers of the Christian religion who operate this entity as an extension of their sincerely held religious beliefs and in accordance with their vows taken as Christian ministers. The purpose of the Hitching Post is to help people create, celebrate, and build lifetime, monogamous, one-man-one-woman marriages as defined by the Holy Bible.”
Local human rights groups encouraged the city to give the Hitching Post free range to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Here are some questions for you:

How did these Foursquare ministers (whose religious liberties are completely dashed at the theoretical possibility of serving gay customers on some hypothetical day) run his for-profit ministry when they served people of other faiths? Or no faiths? Because up until recently, they advertised a willingness to accommodate non-Christian weddings.

Here's a thought -- assuming that any gay or lesbian couple actually ever contacts them for a wedding and they don't have the wits about them to fib and tell the couple that they're already booked that day. What's to stop them from renting the for-profit chapel to a same-sex couple on their wedding day but having the couple bring their own officiate?

Why is it such a huge barrier for a Christian business owner to bend a bit to figure out how to remain a public accommodation and serve the public? Why could they figure out how to serve people of other faith but not gay people?

Instead, they file a federal lawsuit based off NO INCIDENT claiming FALSELY that they have been harmed. And "we" feel bad for them and wish that the people of those communities hadn't pushed existing public accommodation laws be expanded to included LGBT people -- presumably because we're not worth being protected from discrimination.

Let's say they're ordained Muslim clerics running a for-profit chapel business and a couple comes in to get married and one is blind. He has a seeing eye dog. That dog is viewed as "unclean." Discrimination based on disability is illegal under this same ordinance (not to mention the ADA). Should the cleric be allowed to discriminate against this couple because of the dog? It's a valid religious objection. Should the disabled couple move on without a formal process in place to file a complaint against this Muslim's chapel?

And if we think that the business owner should have the right to discriminate against any customer for any reason at their for-profit public business -- then why the heck do we have anti-discrimination laws in the first place? Every man or woman for themselves, right?

But this is all moot anyway. Because this ordinance had already come up with a plan to allow religious groups to legally discriminate against LGBT people and this business had already become a government-recognized religious organization.

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