The momentum is growing to protect gays, lesbians, transgendered and veterans in the city’s anti-discrimination laws. But some local pastors say those changes may end up violating the rights of the religious.
“A religious view: either you have one or you don’t, it is still a religious view. And if I don’t attain to their view, then I’m out of the picture completely. It’s a stifling of free speech,” said Pastor Steve Branson of Village Parkway Baptist Church.
Ever have a Paula Deen moment — make an off-color joke or hold a religious belief? Branson says keep it to yourself if you’re involved with San Antonio city government. Proposed changes to the anti-discrimination ordinance could get you fired.
“If you voice any opinion, no matter how many years back it’s been, it can be used against you. City employees are going to be greatly affected by this,” Branson continued.
Branson was one of more than a dozen local church leaders gathering in a strategy session Tuesday. The group wants to stop revisions to the city’s non-discrimination laws.
Branson said the group isn’t after gays, lesbians, veterans or other group protections.
Instead the group said they are targeting language in the law that tinkers with freedom of speech.
Together with the mayor, Councilman Diego Bernal is spearheading the changes to a document that hasn’t been revised in decades. Bernal said the ordinance tightens language to be all-inclusive.
Bernal told KENS 5: “This (ordinance) is the bare minimum. Austin’s is more progressive.”
But attorneys for the pastors said the bill’s vague phrases are open to interpretation.
Consider this wording on page 3: “You can forget that committee appointment if you’ve ever ‘demonstrated a bias, by word or deed against any person.’”
“How do you figure out what a bias is?” asked Branson.
Branson said any faith-based organization with a city contract would have to abide by the new rules … and any bias — real or imagined — could cost jobs and contracts.
“This is open to interpretation to whoever is in control,” Branson added.
San Antonio city council is on summer hiatus. The proposed ordinance will be taken up in August when the council returns.