Odgaard v. Iowa

It’s their home away from home.

Betty and Richard Odgaard are a Mennonite couple who own and operate the Görtz Haus Gallery, a 77-year-old-church-building-turned-art-gallery that hosts wedding ceremonies (and related services including a lunch bistro and a flower shop).

It’s a small-town business, their life’s work. Betty and Richard personally devote their time and effort into all events they host, most of which are wedding ceremonies. For every wedding, Betty meets with the bride multiple times, plans the celebration, and designs the wedding flowers and decorations. Richard prepares the sanctuary for the ceremony, handling the sound system and assisting the officiant and guests. Every wedding keeps them both at the Gallery from morning until night to personally set up, facilitate, and clean up after each wedding ceremony.

As Mennonites, Betty and Richard consider their faith to be a central part of their lives. That’s part of the reason why Betty and Richard have kept the religious elements of the church building. Latin crosses adorn the church, both inside and outside. Stained glass windows depict Biblical images in the Gallery, and a Bible verse on the wall welcomes all visitors. Betty displays paintings in the Gallery, many of which have religious themes. Simply put, the Gallery serves as an expression of Betty and Richard’s Christian faith.

Only now, after over a decade of working at the Gallery together, the government is trying to either force Betty and Richard to publicly violate their faith or punish them for holding it. Betty and Richard believe that a wedding is an inherently religious ceremony that communicates something important to society. But the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is forcing Betty and Richard to personally host a same-sex wedding ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. Although Betty and Richard have served and hired gay individuals in the past, and have gay friends and family members whom they hold in high regard, they cannot personally host a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs.

Betty and Richard have lost business for sticking to their beliefs. They have received hate mail and threatening phone calls. All they ask is for the government to allow them to live according to their faith, as they always have been free to do, and to stop forcing them to host a religious ceremony that violates their convictions.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the Odgaards in a lawsuit to defend their freedom to live according to their religious beliefs.

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