The intense debate over religious liberty continues to forge ahead in communities and courtrooms across America, as judges weigh the balance between the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It’s a battle that boils down to the need to find an appropriate harmony between free speech, religious liberty and equal protection under the law.
Some of the cases that have unfolded in recent years were included in the credits of “God’s Not Dead 2,” with the preceding text in those credits noting that the film was "inspired by... legal cases where Americans were condemned for their faith.”
At the time of the movie’s release, some of those cases were still unresolved and ongoing. Below, explore how just three of these fascinating legal battles ended up:
The Debate Over a Christian-Owned Wedding Chapel
The first case worth exploring is Knapp v. City of Coeur d’Alene, a legal battle that unfolded between husband and wife duo Donald and Evelyn Knapp and the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
The Knapps, who own the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel — a business that offers “small, short, intimate, and private weddings for couples who desire a traditional Christian wedding ceremony” — found themselves in the government’s crosshairs when Coeur d’Alene adopted a 2013 ordinance that required any public accommodation to offer services to any person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Considering that the Knapps, who are both ordained Christian ministers, only performed traditional marriage ceremonies, they reached out to the government for clarification on the new regulations and were told that Hitching Post Wedding Chapel would not be exempt from the nondiscrimination ordinance.
Fearing legal ramifications, the Knapps teamed up with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and sued the city. As a result, the city eventually said that the Knapps wouldn’t be held to the ordinance and the couple was awarded $1,000.01. You can read more about the case here.
A Lost Religious Liberty Battle
A similar case unfolded near Albany, N.Y., when Cynthia and Robert Giffords, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, declined to host a same-sex ceremony and were subsequently fined $13,000 by the state government.
The case touched off in 2012 when a lesbian couple asked about using the venue for their ceremony. Cynthia Gifford responded by noting that she and her husband, who typically hold ceremonies either inside of or near a barn they also live in on the property, do not host same-sex nuptials. Still, she said the women were welcome to use the farm for their reception.
The couple subsequently complained to New York’s Division of Human Rights. The Giffords were found guilty of “sexual orientation discrimination” and were forced to pay $13,000 in addition to being mandated to put staff through marriage training classes, according to ADF.
The Giffords pushed back and took legal action, but to no avail, announcing in 2014 that they would be suspending all wedding ceremonies at the farm. Then, in 2015, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld the fine and affirmed that the government has the right to punish the Giffords’ refusal.
The family released a statement in February 2016 through ADF attorney Caleb Dalton, which revealed that they would not be appealing the ruling. It read:
“Americans should be free to live and work peacefully according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards. The government went after this couple’s constitutionally protected freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property. This kind of governmental coercion should disturb every freedom-loving American no matter where you stand on marriage. The court should have rejected this unnecessary and unjust intrusion on the Giffords’ basic civil rights. After much consideration, the Giffords have decided not to appeal the ruling and are evaluating how to best run Liberty Ridge Farm under a legal regime that disregards their convictions.”
As of April 2018, it appears Liberty Ridge is once again performing weddings and has made ceremonies available to “all potential clients … regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability or marital status.”
But there’s a caveat: The Giffords make it clear on their website that they donate proceeds from every wedding to “organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.”
The Family Research Council is known for its staunch defense of traditional marriage.
Bible References Stripped From a Football Plaque
Last but not least: A public university in Colorado was sued by an alumnus after the school rejected Bible references that the former student wanted included on a donor nameplate.
The Colorado School of Mines had initially invited past students to donate and, in turn, receive a personalized nameplate on a locker inside of the school’s new locker room. Each nameplate could have up to three lines of text.
But the university reportedly rejected former college football player Michael Lucas’ request that “Colossians 2:23 and Micah 5:9” be placed on his donor nameplate on the basis that the text of the associated Bible verses refers to God, though the actual text of the verses was not requested to be placed on the nameplate.
Lucas, who had donated $2,500 to the school, sued over the refusal. Rather than reverse course and simply allow the references, The Colorado School of Mines decided to scrap the personalized name plates altogether, allowing donors to instead transfer donations to different programs with nameplates that were not personalized, according to ADF.
David Hacker, senior counsel with ADF, explained his law firm’s reaction to that decision:
“The school initially imposed no restrictions – or even guidelines – on the type of message a donor could include, and contrary to what the school argued, the First Amendment protects – not restricts – a simple reference to a Bible verse in this context. Because the school apparently feared a simple Scripture reference would be like asbestos on the locker room walls, it decided to purge any trace of free expression from the facility.”
The ADF withdrew its lawsuit as a result of the scrapping of the program.
So, there you have it — a more complete look at just three of the cases that inspired “God’s Not Dead 2.” You can watch the film, among thousands of other amazing titles, for free during your one-month PureFlix.com trial.