Idaho wedding chapel can sue city over human rights ordinance

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

Hitching Post wedding chapel, Coeur D Alene, ID

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has allowed a lawsuit to proceed that alleges an Idaho city’s anti-discrimination policy violates the religious rights of wedding chapel owners who oppose same sex marriage.

However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush severely limited the scope of the lawsuit in his ruling on Friday.

Hitching Post owners Don and Lynn Knapp, who are ordained ministers, closed their business for nearly a week in 2014 out of fear that Coeur d’Alene would prosecute them for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. The Knapps contend they were warned about possible consequences by city staff.

They say the closure caused them to suffer an economic loss.

The Knapps, represented by a Christian religious rights legal organization, then a filed a complaint against the city shortly after reopening.

In his ruling, Bush ruled that the Knapps can only file for damages for one day they voluntarily shut down — Oct. 15, 2014 — the same day gay marriage became legal in Idaho. Bush said the Knapps failed to demonstrate they were under threat of prosecution for future violations of the ordinance.

The Alliance Defending Freedom declined to comment, saying they were still reviewing the lawsuit and considering options.

City officials have argued that the lawsuit is unnecessary because the chapel is registered as a religious organization, making it exempt from the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The judge noted, however, that the exemption has not always been clear and has evolved over time.

“Nothing in the record indicates that (the city) ever made this position clearly known to anyone,” he wrote.

Michael Gridley, Coeur d’Alene’s city attorney, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision and agreed that he could have been clearer with the Knapps in his correspondence on whether the city would take legal action against them.

“We wish it would have been totally dismissed, but we believe it will pretty much go away now,” he said. “It will be an uphill battle for them.”

Bush questioned why the Knapps failed to tell the city before shutting down the chapel that they had recently filed paperwork with the state to be considered a religious organization.

“By not bringing such information to the attention of the city at that time, the Knapps arguably chose to forego the possibility of an informal resolution,” he said.

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