Hitching Post lawsuit settled by city of Coeur d’Alene

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The city of Coeur d’Alene has settled a lawsuit brought against it by the owners of the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel who worried that the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance would subject them to fines or jail time for refusing to perform same-sex weddings.

Mike Gridley, the city’s attorney, tells the Inlander that the Alliance Defending Freedom, an advocacy group representing Hitching Post owners Don and Evelyn Knapp, has accepted an offer to settle the suit for $1,000.01.

“This is a good deal for us; it’s a good deal for the taxpayer,” says Gridley, who notes that it would have cost more to fight the lawsuit than settle it. “Our ordinance remains the same.”

In 2014, the ADF filed a suit on behalf of the Knapps. At the time, a federal court had recently struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage, and a city attorney told the Spokesman-Review that because the chapel is a for-profit company it could be compelled to comply with an ordinance that prohibits most businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation. The Knapps briefly closed their chapel after someone inquired about a same-sex wedding. With the help of the ADF, they filed a federal lawsuit against city alleging it had violated their rights religious freedom.

Gridley says that because the Hitching Post reorganized as a religious corporation, the ordinance didn’t apply to them and they wouldn’t have been compelled to perform same-sex weddings.

“We’ve told them from the beginning that because they have now formed themselves as a religious corporation they are exempt under the ordinance,” says Gridley. “We will not prosecute or pursue them.”

However, the case quickly drew national attention, with religious freedom advocates expressing alarm that two pastors could face $1,000-a-day fines or jail time for refusing to perform same-sex weddings.

Earlier this spring, a federal judge dismissed most of the suit except for a portion seeking damages for the time the chapel was closed.

But Gridley say that the lawsuit, which he calls “unjustified” wasn’t worth pursuing. He says that to date there’s been no complaints of discrimination under the ordinance, nor has there been any investigations or prosecutions.

The ADF did not respond to a call seeking comment. We’ll update this post if we hear back.