THE BLOG
10/21/2014 03:25 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Is a Church Being Forced to Perform a Gay Wedding?

I suspect there is a lot of misinformation about the so-called Hitching Post Wedding Chapel case. Here is how fundamentalist anti-gay crusaders at "Alliance Defending (sic) Freedom" present things:

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order Friday to stop officials in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, from forcing two ordained Christian ministers to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. ... "The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco."

Of course, ADF is notoriously unreliable when it comes to stating the facts, and will twist facts until they barely resemble their old selves.

The couple who own the Wedding Chapel are ordained, but running a business, not a church. Nor are they pastors, since they don't have a church, as ADF claimed. A church can discriminate -- and they do so all the time, even when it comes to weddings. The Knapps, however, present the Hitching Post as a business, open to the public, and not as a ministry or religious establishment.

ADF legal filings, however, play up the "ministry" claims. Instead of admitting this is business with no significant religious requirements, ADF refers to this business as a "religious mission." In addition, the falsely claim that the Knapps "have ensured that mission is respected by barring anyone but themselves and their employees from performing wedding ceremonies at, or on behalf of, the Hitching Post."

Until this legal case arose Hitching Post stated openly that civil ceremonies were available. They also offered ceremonies in other states and venues where they would help couples plan the wedding and find an officiant. These officiants were NOT employees of the business.

ADF says they opened the chapel "in 1989 as a ministry." That is a lie and the Hitching Post web page tells the truth. First, Hitching Post existed as a business for decades and was "used for wedding ceremonies for over 50 years." It was not a ministry, it was a business which "the current owners purchased" in 1989 and which had been privately owned since it was founded in 1919. In one part of the ADF filing they admit this is the Knapp's "closely-held business," not a ministry at all.

Nowhere does the Hitching Post refer to themselves as a ministry but they do call themselves a business. I quote their own site where they say they are in "the business of helping couples start their new lives together." On another site, they advertise saying: "We also carry silk flower arrangements and other wedding items in our business, plus there are several photographers that work with us and local florists as well. Fees vary for distance weddings. Our fee in the chapel is by the wedding, not the hour." Please note they are selling "other wedding items in our business."

Missing are any references to "ministry beliefs." There is no doctrinal statement, no requirement to be a member of any faith, let alone a specific one. From what I see one does not even have to believe in a god to get married in this chapel -- but that is because it has been run as a business, not as a church, for almost 100 years.

ADF wants to present this as ministers being forced to conduct a ceremony. In fact, the Hitching Post doesn't exclusively perform ceremonies either. They plan weddings for other people as well.

In the past their web page openly admitted they would "marry you using a traditional or civil ceremony" and would also "perform wedding ceremonies of other faiths as well as civil weddings." Now the ADF claims the business will "only perform ceremonies consistent with their religious beliefs

At no point did the doctrines the Knapps believe restrict their business activity prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal. These admissions were scrubbed from their page after they filed their lawsuit.

Other faiths are happy to perform same-sex weddings. ADF says: "The doctrines of their Church, the International Church of the Foursquare gospel, also make clear that "[m]arriage is a biblical covenant relationship between a man and a woman established initially by God."

That would be relevant if the Hitching Post were a Church and part of this ultra-fundamentalist sect, but it isn't. It's a business and Foursquare doctrine has never played a role in how the business was previously conducted. ADF is rebranding Hitching Post to fit their lawsuit.

What is at issue is that the Hitching Post has been a business, open to the public, with no religious requirements for almost a century, and for most of the time ceremonies were conducted by justices of the peace, until the state abolished that office. The Knapps purchased the business in 1989 and continued to run it as a business, never as a religious institution. They performed non-religious ceremonies and happily allowed ministers of other faiths to perform services whether they were employees or not.

Whether or not it should be the case, anti-discrimination laws -- which the ADF loves when it protects fundamentalists -- cover private businesses, including this one. That the Knapps got ordained does not change the nature of the business. Being a minister doesn't make your business a ministry.

If this were a car wash that refused to serve Jews, people would see the case differently, and I doubt the anti-gay bigots at ADF would be involved at all. Even if the car wash were owned by ministers it would not be a ministry. Who owns the business doesn't change the legal standing of the business from that of a public accommodation, as the Hitching Post is, into a ministry, as the ADF wants to pretend it is.

At the very least people should get their facts straight first. There is no ministry being forced to perform gay marriages. There is a business that is discriminating, not a ministry. Under the law, businesses don't have the special privileges given to religious groups.

The Knapps never before claimed to run a ministry. They openly presented themselves as running a business. This Hitching Post is not a church, but more similar to a hotel, open to the public and subject to business laws. At the very least people should be clear what is being debated, and it has nothing to do with a church being forced to perform a gay wedding.