Meanwhile, in Idaho…

As though the fun in Houston with pastors being ordered to turn over sermons to the courts wasn’t interesting enough, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, there is an uproar over the city’s threat to press charges against a wedding chapel that is violating the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.  The wedding chapel declined a request to conduct a same-sex marriage.  Now the couple who run the chapel is suing the city, and the city has issued a preliminary response to the lawsuit.

As is typical, none of these stories actually link to the anti-discrimination ordinance at the center of this situation.  After some poking around I came up with this draft of the legislation.  The bill is clearly not aimed at religious institutions, or those institutions associated in significant manner with religious institutions.  So the question becomes whether or not the wedding chapel is a religious institution or not.  The couple that runs it are ordained ministers.  But does that make their wedding chapel a church?  They have filed for religious institution status, a move that would exempt them from the anti-discrimination law.

But is that really fair?

They aren’t operating a church.  They’re operating a for-profit business that provides a religious marriage ceremony.  I presume they don’t do anything else that churches do – hold worship services, offer other Sacraments, or do anything that anyone would reasonably call church-related.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m firmly against government telling business owners (or corporation owners, for that matter) whether or not they can follow their religious beliefs in operating their business.  I don’t think that bakers should be required to take an order for an event that they believe is morally and spiritually wrong.  This is part of my larger belief that business owners shouldn’t be forced to accept every single client that happens to wander into their establishment.  It’s their business.  Pun intended.

But the headlines about this story are misleading.  Just because the owners of the for-profit wedding chapel are ordained, it is being equated with forcing ministers to violate their religious beliefs, and I don’t think that this is the case.  I think it is a case of where devout Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or what-have-you) are going to need to reconsider their vocational calling in light of current political and cultural trends.  The idea that you can follow your faith and be a business owner is increasingly being challenged and denied.  I agree with some pundits who say that this trend will continue until it affects a Muslim business owner.  When that happens, there’s a chance that the tide will be reversed because it’s far less culturally acceptable to push Muslims to violate their beliefs than it is to push Christians to do so.

All that being said, I can easily see how these sorts of regulations are drawing the noose tighter and tighter around actual churches (or mosques, or synagogues), and how it is happening far faster than I expected.  I can see how these sorts of ordinances will be used to push actual houses of worship to conform to cultural expectations (after non-church, religious institutions like hospitals and schools have been).

I don’t think the owners of the wedding chapel should be forced to marry anyone they choose not to – regardless of the reason, quite frankly.  But I don’t think that this is the frontal assault on ministers and churches that it is being touted as by many folks.


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