Coeur d'Alene Responds to Chapel Lawsuit Over Nondiscrimination Ordinance

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The city of Coeur d'Alene has responded to a lawsuit filed by an iconic North Idaho chapel and a Christian legal defense fund over the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel has been in operation since 1919, but after U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled that Idaho's same-sex marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution in May, the chapel's owners told KXLY that they would rather close their chapel than wed a same-sex couple.

"I think the Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is not his way, and therefore I cannot unite people in a way that I believe would conflict with what the Bible teaches," Hitching Post owner Donald Knapp said at the time.

Oct. 17, days after the last legal barriers to same-sex marriage were removed, Knapp and Alliance Defending Freedom—a religious freedom legal defense group—filed suit against the city over its ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity within city limits. Knapp et al said that the city ordinance would force the Hitching Post to wed same-sex couples, violating its owners' religious beliefs, or face up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine.

But according to Coeur d'Alene City Attorney Michael Gridley, the suit filed against the city has no grounds, since Hitching Post filed for religious corporation status with the secretary of state as a religious institution Oct. 6, exempting it from the nondiscrimination standard to which for-profit companies are held. is a for-profit entity and not a nonprofit religious corporation that would have its religious expression protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"I want to be clear that absent a change in the city's anti-discrimination ordinance or other applicable state or federal law, the city will not prosecute legitimate, nonprofit religious corporations, associations, educational institutions or societies or other exempt organizations or anyone else as a result of their lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion," wrote Gridley in a memo to David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom.

"I believe that given the current facts, your clients' lawsuit is premature and not ripe for adjudication. As such, I would ask that you review this letter with your clients and urge them to dismiss their Iawsuit before any more time and resources are expended," he wrote.