A Houston-based religious nonprofit behind the so-called bathroom bill is suing the City of Austin over its anti-discrimination hiring ordinance. The U.S. Pastor Council filed suit in a federal district court late last week, alleging the city rule’s lack of exemptions for churches or other religiously affiliated groups violates state and federal law.
The suit asks the court to block the enforcement of the ordinance on behalf of its 25 member churches in the Austin area “because these member churches rely on the Bible rather than modern-day cultural fads for religious and moral guidance, they will not hire practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy.”
In a June letter to the Austin City Council, Executive Director David Welch reasoned that the ordinance didn’t provide wide enough berth for religious exemption – and that Catholic churches refusing to hire women as priests or “homosexuals as clergy” would be violating the city law.
“These are the stingiest religious exemptions we have ever seen in an anti-discrimination law,” Welch wrote. “It is inexcusable that you would purport to subject a church’s hiring decisions to your city’s antidiscrimination ordinance.”
In a written statement today, the city defended its anti-discrimination ordinance.
“The ordinance reflects our values and culture respecting the dignity and rights of every individual,” said city spokesperson David Green. “We are prepared to vigorously defend the City against this challenge to the City’s civil rights protections.”
There’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. This is all transparent bullshit, but that’s par for the course with these clowns. The good news is that the good guys aren’t worried about this, or the accompanying state lawsuit that was also filed.
Texas Values, another conservative Christian organization, filed a separate, broader lawsuit in state district court, also on Saturday, seeking to invalidate the ordinance as it applies to both employment and housing decisions.
Texas Values’ lawsuit also invokes the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that, in general, governments cannot “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.”
“The city of Austin’s so-called anti-discrimination laws violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by punishing individuals, private businesses and religious nonprofits, including churches, for their religious beliefs on sexuality and marriage,” Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.
“These lawsuits certainly highlight a coordinated effort among people who want to target LGBTQ people in court,” said Paul Castillo, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, an advocacy firm for LGBTQ rights.
Castillo said he has not examined Texas Values’ suit but that the city of Austin “is on solid legal ground” in the U.S. Pastor Council lawsuit.
“In order to walk into court, you have to demonstrate some sort of injury,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t appear that the city of Austin is enforcing or has enforced its anti-discrimination laws in a way that would infringe upon these religions.”
He added that the timing of the lawsuits is “certainly suspect” as groups attempt to politicize LGBTQ issues ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
Jason Smith, a Fort Worth employment lawyer, said he expects both lawsuits to “go nowhere.” He points to former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which Smith said made it clear that religious beliefs do not justify discrimination.
Still, he said people should be “worried by the repeated attempts to limit the Supreme Court’s announcement that the Constitution protects gays and lesbians.”
There is currently no statewide law that protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination, but San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth have nondiscrimination ordinances similar to Austin’s. Smith said the other cities will be watching how the lawsuits in Austin unfold and that some cities may even file briefs to make the court aware of their positions.
Good to know, but as always it all comes down to what the judges make of it. I guess I have more faith in the federal courts at this point than our state courts, at least at the higher levels, but we’ll see. ThinkProgress has more.