The ACLU owes the ACLU an apology.

For more than a year, liberal elites have ridiculed the idea that businesses can exercise religion. They demonized the Supreme Court for recognizing that Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties, and other family businesses have a right to operate under their owners' religious principles.

In Arizona, the ACLU participated in a public smear campaign against a religious freedom law simply because it would have explicitly recognized that businesses can exercise religion — just like the similar federal law. Those religious freedom laws don't mean businesses always win their cases, only that they don't always lose.

But the ACLU overplayed its hand in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It supported a "non-discrimination" law so extreme that it caused the city attorney to threaten two ordained Christian ministers with jail if they did not use their wedding business to solemnize same-sex marriages.

This is the worst nightmare of the same-sex marriage movement: not that ministers would be coerced (that’s always been the plan), but that the public would see same-sex marriage destroying religious freedom, even for ministers.

In order to prevent the public from knowing religious freedom’s true peril, the ACLU of Idaho has declared that the Christian ministers' for-profit business, the Hitching Post, is exempt from the local non-discrimination ordinance. Why? Because it is a "religious corporation."

This self-contradictory assertion is stunning. The Hitching Post is a for-profit "Limited Liability Company" under Idaho law. It is the same kind of business entity that we have been told in Arizona and nationally is inherently incapable of exercising religion.

But the ACLU's inconsistency runs much deeper. The "religious corporation" exception in the Coeur d’Alene ordinance is drawn word for word from the exception in Title VII, the federal statute banning employment discrimination. The Left has insisted for decades that it is impossible for a for-profit business to be a "religious corporation" under Title VII.

The Obama administration told me the same thing recently. In response to Obamacare’s abortion-pill mandate, Alliance Defending Freedom brought a lawsuit on behalf of Tyndale House Publishers, a for-profit Christian company that publishes the Bible and the Left Behind books, among others.

Though we won an injunction for Tyndale, the Obama administration had argued in court that no for-profit business, not even a Bible publisher, could exercise religion or be a "religious corporation" under Title VII.

In order to cover up the coercive extremes that the same-sex marriage agenda can reach, the ACLU has thrown under its bus the Obama administration, commentators like Dahlia Lithwick (corporations don’t “go to heaven”), litigious same-sex couples, and even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To paint the Idaho ministers as crying wolf, the ACLU now positively urges that the for-profit Hitching Post company can not only exercise religion, it can be a full blown "religious corporation" — which would logically fall under Title VII.

In truth, family businesses can exercise religion and be religious corporations. But until now, the liberal legal elite have told them in no uncertain terms that they cannot, and that they should face punishment for their beliefs about marriage and abortion. The Hitching Post had every reason to believe the government’s threats of jail.

Saying businesses can exercise religion was anathema among the liberal elite, until the Hitching Post came along. The ACLU’s reversal is only a bluff, so that people will stop paying attention. When family businesses lose their religious status gradually, the coercive element of the same-sex marriage agenda can resume.

Matt Bowman is the Senior Legal Counsel for the Allliance Defending Freedom. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.