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Lansing, MI city council facing down religious leaders over human rights ordinance

The Lansing City Council is expected to pass an anti-discrimination measure that would protect LGBT citizens in housing, employment, public facilities and public accommodations. The body is facing some public clashes with religious leaders (including, no surprise here, black pastors) who want to ensure exemption language that respected their “moral beliefs” when it comes to hiring practices. (Lansing City Pulse):

Bishop David Maxwell, vice president of the Clergy Forum of Greater Lansing and director of Mayor Virg Bernero’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives, said some of the pastors he represents had concerns over the exemptions portion of the ordinance.

Prior to Friday, the ordinance allowed religious organizations to restrict employment only for officers, religious instructors and clergy. Black pastors wanted a staff exemption as well, so they wouldn’t have to hire a “cross-dresser as a secretary,” or anyone else who would act “contrary to their moral beliefs,” Maxwell said.

The committee went back and added this clause:

“It is permissible for a religious organization or institution to restrict employment opportunities, housing facilities or public accommodations that are operated as a direct part of religious activities to persons who conform with the moral tenets of that religious institution or organization.”

Of course, this also led to a lot of “what if” scenarios, which were presented to the committee by the Diocese of Lansing and the Black Catholic Ministry, who were still skittish about support — and the Michigan American Family Association chapter jumped into the fray as well…First some of the scenarios presented, inquiring how the law might be applied:

• A Catholic social services agency has a strong record of placing foster children in permanent homes. However, it will not allow same-sex couple to adopt children.

• Two boys show up as each other’s date for prom at a Christian high school, and proceed to kiss on the dance floor. A chaperone removes them from the dance, and later tells the boys that their act was contrary to the school’s moral standards.

• The bus driver for a Baptist church occasionally shows up for work in drag. The pastor of the church tells the driver that he can’t continue to work for the church if he keeps wearing women’s clothing.

• A Muslim man who runs a neighborhood print shop refuses to print fliers for a gay pride event. “He explains that he cannot participate in publicizing an event that, in his view, celebrates immorality.”

The AFA folks added its “what ifs” to the pile:

“Should the Michigan Family Forum be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a man who engages in homosexual behavior or cross-dressing?” Glenn said. “Should [Citizens for Traditional Values] be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a Wiccan? Or in the reverse, should Michigan Equality or the Lansing Association for Human Rights be charged with a crime for refusing to hire a Muslim jihadist who as a matter of religious conviction believes individuals who engage in homosexual behavior should be beheaded?”

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who introduced the ordinance, addressed these issues by saying the right to practice one’s religion ends when it adversely affects another party.

“We have written into the ordinance an exemption that allows flexibility to choose job candidates based on bona fide job qualifications,” she said. “It could be easily argued that a candidate in that situation would have to believe in the mission of the organization as a bona fide job qualification.”

…“They want to protect individuals in the practice of their faith,” Dunbar said. “I understand that, but the problem arises when individuals engage in discriminatory behavior, which in essence violates another person’s rights.

Even so, you can see that these legal tussles and clashes will continue; you see the continual bleating by fundies about the “attack on religious freedom,” which has been their latest spin on trying to drum up public support to allow discrimination.

Hat tip, Autumn.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding