Churches Challenge Wisconsin City’s LGBT Ordinance

GREEN BAY, Wis. (CN) – Five churches and a Christian radio station sued a Wisconsin city, claiming its recently passed nondiscrimination ordinance protecting transgender residents should not apply to them.

De Pere, Wisconsin, passed the ordinance last November, prohibiting employers, businesses and landlords from discriminating against people on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Green Bay suburb was sued Thursday in Brown County Circuit Court by Hope Lutheran Church, Crosspoint Church, Destiny Church, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Christ the Rock Church and Christian broadcaster Lakeshore Communications Inc. aka Q90fm.

Represented by Wisconsin attorney Heidi Miller and Matthew McReynolds of the California-based Pacific Justice Institute, the churches and radio station argue the ordinance violates their constitutional right to run faith-based ministries and businesses because allowing people who contradict their beliefs to use their facilities goes against the reason the facilities exist.

“Unlike many of its counterparts in other state, local and federal law, the De Pere ordinance does not clearly exempt religious organizations. Nor has the city been willing to assure religious institutions that they will not be subjected to the ordinance when it takes effect March 1, 2018,” the 24-page lawsuit states. “As a result, the ordinance is likely to be imposed on churches and other religious organizations in a manner that would mandate government orthodoxy in core religious functions, communication and conduct.”

De Pere’s ordinance entitled “Non-discrimination in Housing, Public Accommodation and Employment” seeks to ensure transgender citizens, those who do not identify with their birth sex, have the same anti-discrimination protections as everyone else.

Under the new ordinance, those who say they have been discriminated against can file a complaint with the city and offenders can be fined.

In their complaint, the churches and radio station outline their views on gender identity, marriage and homosexual behavior.

“‘Because Christianity takes our created bodies seriously, it is compelled to view it as a disorder of creation if a man or woman feels discomfort with his or her body and desires either to dress and act in the manner of the opposite sex or to ‘change’ his or her sex by means of hormones or surgery,’” the complaint states, citing a 2014 religious position paper.

The churches say their leaders would be subject to removal if they took a position on marriage and sexuality that conflicted with their governing councils.

Q90fm claims it only sells air time to those whose conduct is “consistent with Christian lifestyle and character,” and the same principle applies to its promotion of concerts and song selection.

“Q90fm will decline to play music of artists who have faith, conduct or character issues that are inconsistent with the Christian faith,” the lawsuit states.

The nonprofit religious organizations say the ordinance’s discrimination provision should not apply to them and they do not qualify as “public accommodations” under the ordinance.

“The plaintiffs hold views relative to family and marital status, religion, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation for which they make employment and facilities-use decisions,” they argue.

They want a judge to declare that the ordinance must exempt nonprofit religious institutions, or that it is an unconstitutional violation of their rights to freedom of religion, speech and press.

The lead attorney for the churches and radio station, Miller, expressed disdain for the ordinance in an emailed statement.

“Both federal and state law provide important safeguards,” she said. “This ordinance impinges upon churches and other organizations in De Pere by dictating what they can and can’t do or say in such a way that would severely curtail religious exercise.

The De Pere City Council did not immediately respond Friday to email requests for comment.

De Pere passed the transgender nondiscrimination ordinance in November 2017 by a 5-4 vote. It is the seventh city in Wisconsin to pledge all-inclusive protections for LGBT residents.

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