AUSTIN, Texas – The fight for religious freedom has the city of Austin in its purview.
• Texas Values says Austin non-discrimination ordinance violates Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act
• The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
The US Pastor Council filed a lawsuit Saturday, saying it is suing the city on behalf of 25 member churches that operate in Austin.
At issue is the City of Austin’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which extends to all businesses in the City of Austin and is intended to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, also known as name of LGBT, are not discriminated against by employers.
This law extends protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The order as it stands:
“An employer cannot:
(1) not hire or refuse to hire or fire any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on race, color , religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age or disability; Where
(2) limit, segregate, or classify an employee or applicant for employment in a manner that would deprive or tend to deprive an individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the individual’s status as an employee, based on the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age or disability.”
Jonathan Saenz of the group Texas Values said the order violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“We get calls all the time from people who are aware of these types of orders and who are afraid if they just exercise their rights they will be prosecuted or punished,” he said.
Saenz would not provide a specific example of retaliation by the city of Austin. Although his group is not an interested party in the lawsuit, his group supports the Pastor Council lawsuit.
“The ordinance does not provide any exemption or accommodation for employers who have religious objections to homosexuality or transgender behavior. It does not even exempt church hiring decisions from its prohibition on sex discrimination, nor does it exempt churches from the prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” the lawsuit said. “None of the (exemptions) accepts churches that oppose homosexuality, transgender behavior or the ordination of women.”
“Texas Values fully supports the efforts of the US Pastor Council to defend itself and protect churches from city and local government efforts to punish churches based on their religious beliefs,” Saenz said.
Meghan Stabler is a former leader of the Human Rights Campaign and a nationally recognized voice for LGBT rights. She fears the lawsuit seeks to overturn both Austin’s and gender-based protections.
“More than likely it will have a disastrous impact if it passes,” she said. “We know sex is also a protected class under Title VII, so that really can’t be reversed. But who knows with the makeup of the Supreme Court right now.”
The lawsuit filing on Saturday is also suspicious for Stabler. It was the same day that Brett Kavanaugh was endorsed, confirmed, and sworn in at the United States Supreme Court.
MORE | Read the lawsuit here
“I think that’s a clear indication of what’s to come when it comes to religious freedom coming up against equality for everyone in this country,” Stabler said.
She said the case would take several years to reach the Supreme Court. First, he must be heard and tried by a federal judge in Austin and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler is also named in the lawsuit.
“Non-discrimination is a core value in Austin and we must uphold it,” Adler said in a statement.
Calls to Jonathan Mitchell, the attorney for the US Pastor Council, were not returned. Staff at his Austin office said he was not there and rarely visited.