It took about a week from the imposition of homosexual "marriage" by judicial fiat in Idaho for the issue of forcing ministers to perform same-sex "weddings" to arise.
Now, let me make something clear up front, because we're getting some carping about the allegedly misleading nature of the story as told in conservative media. (I'm seeing it on Facebook, even among sympathetic people.) No, the city of Coeur D'Alene is not telling all ministers within their jurisdiction that they have to perform homosexual "marriages." More on how the distinction is made in a moment. And no, the city hasn't yet actually arrested or brought charges against the particular couple in the story. Rather, the couple's pro bono attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom has, wisely in my view, given the circumstances, acted pro-actively to prevent the city from doing so.
So here's the story, in a nutshell. The Knapps are a couple who run a marriage service in Coeur D'Alene across the street from the county clerk's office. They perform weddings at their for-profit wedding chapel for a fee. They are both officially ordained ministers--setting aside for a moment the question of what it means for a woman to be an "ordained minister." Legally, they are, and that is what is relevant to this case as a precedent. I'm also setting aside the question of how wise it it to perform weddings for strangers as a for-profit business. The Knapps give the couples they marry information about what marriage should be, which is a good thing as far as it goes. But the point is, they perform specifically ministerial duties at the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in return for a fee. Got that?
The city has a homosexual rights ordinance that says that you can't discriminate on the basis of "sexual orientation" in public accommodations. Now, just as many of us had pointed out, this sort of ordinance causes all sorts of trouble in itself, but it might not cause people in wedding businesses to be forced to participate in homosexual "weddings" if a state doesn't recognize homosexual "marriage." (Sometimes, with sufficiently activist judges, that limit is not observed. Elaine Hugonin was fined for not photographing a purely informal lesbian ceremony in a state that didn't even recognize civil unions!) In other words, the intersection of homosexual "marriage" with non-discrimination law creates a probability of new instances of persecution of Christian businessmen. Sure enough, that's how the town of Coeur D'Alene took it: As long as homosexual "marriage" was not recognized in the state, the Knapps were protected from being forced to use their wedding chapel and their ministerial legal prerogative to perform homosexual "weddings." But, said the city attorney back in May, if homosexual "marriage" was recognized in the state, then the city ordinance would apply to the Knapps' business. Note here: The city attorney (probably questioned by a newspaper) expressly named the Knapps' business as being, in his view, probably required to provide homosexual "weddings" under the legal circumstances that now obtain. ADF says that city officials have confirmed this privately to the Knapps as well.
Last week, a (presumably) homosexual man tested the waters, calling up the Knapps and asking about homosexual "marriage" services. The Knapps said that they won't do them. So now the legal situation is in place, the city attorney already said what he thinks that means, and they have flown their flag and discriminated. What's going to happen? Naturally, they're worried that the penalties of the city non-discrimination ordinance will be applied to them.
They engaged legal help from ADF, and fortunately, ADF doesn't take the "Snopes all-is-well" view of these things. Rather, ADF has acted preemptively, seeking a restraining order against the city to prevent the city from prosecuting the Knapps. (Side note: The ADF seems to be in the news a lot lately, doing really good and important things, fighting in the front lines. If you want a good place for your donations to go to, you could do worse than to give to the ADF.)
I've seen a number of criticisms on Facebook from Christians who don't want (God forbid) to be alarmist and who are offended by the fact that this story is being reported before a) all ministers are actually being threatened in this way and b) the Knapps themselves have actually had charges brought against them. This is fiddling while Rome burns. Both the ADF's own version of the story and Todd Starnes's version are admirably clear as to what is actually happening. The headlines might be regarded as "click bait," because they are so startling, but that does not make them intrinsically dishonest. It is entirely reasonable that the author should expect people to read the article that goes with the headline! Moreover, the city attorney's comments were made to a not-particularly-conservative news source, the Spokesman-Review, so, even if one holds an extreme view that one should never believe anything one reads in a "conservative" news source, this story is for real. (Ryan T. Anderson's story on this is somewhat less clear than Starnes's or the ADF's. One might think from reading Anderson's column that the city has actually brought charges against the Knapps already.)
When we start doing faux debunkings that make ever-more-fine-grained distinctions so as to quell "alarmism," we are being foolish. At some point it starts to sound like this:
Headline: Government Takes Out Innocent People and Shoots Them Without Trial!
Debunker: Now, stop being so alarmist. The only innocent people being shot without trial are those whose last names start with the letter P. Sheesh, this is so dishonest. Fellow Christians, let's not be dishonest like this. Let's not manipulate the truth!
The fact of the matter is that the city is saying that it can coerce a distinctively ministerial function of performing same-sex ceremonies in a religious service. It's bad enough that justices of the peace and town clerks are forced into endorsing homosexual relationships in these legal situations, but we were always told that homosexuals wouldn't have a right to a religious service with a coerced minister. Surprise, surprise! They lied. We didn't see the little asterisk, "Unless the minister performs the service for a fee."
Moreover, we should have seen the handwriting on the wall in the way that use of church premises has been treated legally in the past. Consider this: Laws on "public accommodations" have been applied explicitly to churches and to homosexual ceremonies if the churches rent their premises to non-members for weddings in return for a fee. So even the, "This isn't a church building" response falls to the ground. The Hitching Post happens not to be a church building, but the government may indeed decide that your church building is offering a "public accommodation" and that you must therefore rent it for homosexual "weddings." So how would this apply to your pastor?
Well, that raises a further point: Most ministers, even when performing weddings for members of their own congregation in their own church building, do receive a fee. Sometimes it's considered a tip or a gratuity rather than an official fee. Sometimes it is waived for members. Sometimes it isn't charged. But any wedding planner will tell you to include a fee for the minister in your expected expenses. Very probably the Hitching Post came to the attention of the Coeur D'Alene city attorney because the entire thing is a free-standing, for-profit business, but if the "for a fee" point is pressed, why should we assume that this would not apply to at least some ministers performing weddings in their own churches? What if a particular minister is clear and definite about charging a fee? A particular minister might treat this matter very much as churches treat the use of their premises: He might say that, if both parties are non-members, he will at least in some cases perform the ceremony, but the couple must pay a set fee for his service. Or he might charge a fee to members as well. In any event, if the fee is a set price for the public and if the service is ever offered to non-members, it is not terribly implausible that the "public accommodations" law would be taken to apply.
Aside from that possibility, the Knapps' situation is already outrageous and is already what we were told would never happen. Kudos to the ADF for taking the case and for pressing it aggressively.