By Bekah Paxton, Staff Writer
Two pastors in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho are under fire according to a state law which they claim violates their right to religious liberty and freedom of expression — all because they denied to perform traditional marriage rituals for same-sex couples.
A new local ordinance in the city is set to outlaw any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, including denial of marriage services to gays and lesbians. This, in and of itself, seems like a legitimate mandate to protect civil rights of all those who desire to get married. However, where is the line drawn for those on the other side of the altar? For religious individuals like pastors, if their set of beliefs does not align with a state-issued ordinance, where is their freedom of expression and freedom of religion?
In short, the ordinance states that pastors Donald and Evelyn Knapp could face up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine upon each denial of marriage services to same-sex couples. The Knapps’ attorney Jeremy Tedesco said, “[They] are in fear that if they exercise their First Amendment rights they will be cited, prosecuted and sent to jail.”
This presents what seems to be the eternal struggle of the U.S. on the topic of the First Amendment — how to protect the rights of one individual without infringing upon the rights of another. On the one hand, who are these pastors to define marriage for someone else and tell others what to do or not to do? Regardless of one’s opinions on gay marriage, I find it very important to note that above all, a system of religious beliefs does not give anyone the right to dictate to others how to live their lives.
However, the founding of America was based upon the idea that the government cannot dictate to its citizens how to live their lives, and essentially that the existence of the government is primarily for the purpose of defending freedom and protecting personal liberty. Therefore, is it constitutionally acceptable for the government, whether local, state or federal, to dictate how an individual can perform services? I think not.
It is important to note the diction of the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Essentially, the federal government cannot institute state religion, so that individuals can choose their method of beliefs. The amendment does NOT say, as many have come to interpret, that in the political realm Americans are free from religion.
Therefore, I believe that this ordinance is, in fact, unconstitutional by means of the First Amendment. I understand the reasoning in order to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in freedom of expression, however it violates that same freedom for religious figures. Just as the pastors can’t judge those same-sex couples for their lifestyle, the government cannot penalize the pastors for their lifestyle.