In the ongoing battle to preserve religious liberty, two more small business owners are feeling the heat of litigation over their views on traditional marriage. It is likely you have already heard about Barronelle Stutzman, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and so many others who decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs. This summer, Richard and Betty Odgaard will join their ranks and close the doors to their 13-year-old business.
As owners of Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa, the Odgaards have operated a wedding venue, bistro, flower shop, and art gallery in an old stone church since 2002. When a gay couple approached them requesting to rent the church for their wedding, the Odgaards declined, knowing this decision would not be congruous with their Mennonite faith and convictions. By the next day, the gay couple had filed a report with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. There was no trial by jury – only an administrative judgment by the same entity with whom the gay couple had filed their complaint. Since the laws in Iowa place the burden of proof on the Odgaards, they knew the judgment was all but predetermined and inevitable. The Beckett Fund, whose lawyers were defending the Odgaards, notes that “the State refused to dismiss its case against the Odgaards even after the two men—contrary to their prior sworn statements—admitted they had been married months before asking the Odgaards to host their ceremony.” In addition to this, the church at Görtz Haus was not entitled to the same protections which Iowa currently allows houses of worship, due to its public service capacity. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission also denied the Odgaards access to the Iowa state court to defend their claims.
The Odgaards did not admit to discrimination, but agreed to a $5,000 settlement. They initially closed the wedding portion of their business to avoid further lawsuits but were isolated from community support since they could not speak out while the case was pending. Ultimately, the firestorm of negative press and boycotts proved too much and they will be closing their business completely this August. Speaking of those who participated in the boycott, Richard Odgaard said,
“They didn’t come in because the people who are against us are more vocal than the people who are in our court.”
Let us take this statement as a call to action and an encouragement to speak out while we can. Those with whom we disagree may be vocal, but we must be too.
For more details on the Odgaards’ story, check out this article written by Kelsey Harkness at the Daily Signal.
You can send a note of encouragement to the Odgaards here: [email protected]
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