Roman Revival 4: The Knapps and Idaho

I mentioned last night that there were two stories in the news prompting my recent and I might add an atypical run of discussions on Gay Marriage. The first one is the well known case in Houston, which I wrote about last night. The second concerns a Idaho based wedding chapel named the Hitching Post, which was being told that they would be required to accommodate same sex couples, though the city has recently backed off of their attempt at coercion. The argument being made by the state is that the wedding chapel is a “for profit” corporation. In a sense, then this would be the same as the discussion I’ve had before – we do not surrender our first amendment rights when we enter the public square (as even the Supreme Court recognized in the Hobby Lobby decision when they discussed that closely held corporations retain their religious liberties), and while it is reasonable (though I believe incorrect) for governments to define the relationship between gay couples and the state, it is a violation of the first amendment however for government to accept the right to define the relationship between a gay couple and the public.

Yet, there is a distinction between this case and those involving bakers and florists. While the wedding chapel is filing as a for profit business, this does not mean it is not a religious organization. Tax laws involving churches and religious organizations are complex, and a wedding chapel might not qualify as a non-profit organization, particularly if this wedding chapel is this couple’s livelihood, though of course this would be a closely held corporation and therefore they do not surrender their rights. Wedding chapels and churches both are involved in various elements of weddings some of which might be considered a business transaction (for example, some churches charge a cleaning fee for weddings or for the use of facilities for the reception, if held on church grounds, and in many churches as well friends and family provide food rather than caterers).

More to the point, while someone might argue that facilities of a wedding chapel (ie the building and the auditorium) are in the same category of bakers and florists, the same cannot be said for the services of the minister in performing the ceremonies. The Knapps perform wedding ceremonies on the grounds that they are pentecostal ministers. Under Idaho state law, this is the basis for their claim to be able to solemnize marriages; while it is possible for non-ordained persons to officiate that is not the grounds under which the Knapps perform ceremonies; they do so on the grounds that they have been recognized as authorized by an explicitly religious organization. Because they do so on the grounds of a specifically religious recognition, how can the state then argue that their religion does not matter? When they perform a marriage they are representing a specific Christian denomination however their organization’s tax status is organized.

The Knapps legal issues are over for now, but this is an issue that should cause Christians to be aware of the potential pressure of Government to change our teachings and our practices.

We now return you to the “regular” Truth in the Trenches schedule.

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