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Freedom of religion and freedom of association under attack in Idaho

Freedom of religion and freedom of association under attack in Idaho

Parrish Miller
October 22, 2014
October 22, 2014

Donald and Evelyn Knapp are ordained ministers who own the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene. When they politely declined to perform a marriage for a gay couple, they found themselves on the wrong side of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Now they could be facing 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for each day they decline to perform the wedding.

Although the city previously stated that "if you turn away a gay couple, refuse to provide services for them, then in theory you violated our code, and you're looking at a potential misdemeanor citation," once confronted with the suit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Donald and Evelyn Knapp, the city is now claiming that the suit has no grounds and that the law doesn't apply to this specific situation. The difference, claims the city attorney, Michael Gridley, is that the Hitching Post has filed for religious corporation status and is therefore not subject to the same anti-discrimination standards as other individuals and businesses.

Even if this narrowly tailored distinction proves correct, however, there are still at least three fundamental freedoms at stake here.

The first is the freedom of religion, specifically relating to the fact that a local ordinance can compel an individual to violate a "sincerely held religious beliefs." The case in question involves an issue even more compelling than simply not wishing to do business with someone who engages in behavior you find offensive because the ordinance potentially requires that ordained ministers take part in and officiate an act that they find morally objectionable.

The second fundamental freedom is the freedom of association. While this right is more often discussed in terms of trade unions or political parties, the principle should be applied to all voluntary interaction between consenting individuals. If one wishes only to associate with individuals who share unique political or religious beliefs, for example, a law should not compel an association with other individuals.

The third fundamental freedom is that of property rights. Property rights are some of the most important and foundational that we have in this nation. Compelling someone to use personal property in a certain manner or to provide a good or service on that property negates the very purpose of property rights—to control that property and the actions that occur on that property.

It is certainly appropriate to prevent governments from engaging in discriminatory actions, but that is because governments are supposed to represent the people—all of the people. Private actors on private property do not fall under this same standard.

From attempting to compel ordained ministers to perform weddings in violation of their religious beliefs to ordering individuals to purchase health insurance against their will, government is far out of compliance with the fundamental principle of individual rights. Discriminatory behavior can certainly be offensive, but offensive actions on one's own property should still be protected. You never know when your actions—or inaction—may become the next target of government intrusion.

As Thomas Jefferson said, "It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own."

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