A lawsuit has been filed against the city of De Pere, Wisconsin, over a new nondiscrimination ordinance providing special protections for same-sex duos that purports to “control aspects of religious employment, facility use, and even advertising.”
It’s a rule that city officials adopted just months ago, but the lawsuit explains that they not only neglected to include exemptions for churches and other religious groups whose faith forbids same-sex relationships, they specifically refused to offer assurances religious beliefs would be protected.
The case on behalf of Hope Lutheran, Crosspoint, Destiny, St. Mark Lutheran and Christ the Rock churches, as well as a local radio station, by Pacific Justice Institute and Heidi Miller of Wauwatosa challenges the requirements the city had scheduled to implement March 1.
“The ordinance bars discrimination, broadly defining that term as well as public accommodation and employment decisions in ways that would severely curtail religious exercise,” the legal team said. “The only exception for religious entities like the churches and radio station is for hiring people of the same religion.”
The lawyers insisted that even that exception is faulty, since it would “afford no ability to make employment decisions if a pastor, other employee, or applicant acts inconsistently with church teaching but continues to claim to be of the same faith or denomination.”
“The sweeping ordinance would also prevent public accommodations from denying use for events such as same-sex weddings or drag shows,” the team said.
“If cities can tell churches who they must hire, retain or promote, and to whom their sanctuaries and other sacred grounds must be made available, and what types of viewpoints may be espoused through advertising, our religious freedom is in serious jeopardy,” said Brad Dacus, president of PJI.
“It is alarming that the city of De Pere would not enact basic protections of religious freedom. We are very hopeful that the court will uphold the rights of these churches and this radio station.”
The city plan, which would task the city attorney with enforcing it and prosecuting offenders, “also affects advertising and purports to restrict the radio station’s ability to promote people or events consistent with its beliefs.”
“A broad reading would also affect the churches’ ability to promote Bible-based marriage conferences and potentially even sermons proclaiming age-old Christian teachings on sexuality.”
The churches said that because the ordinance “is written so broadly, and is devoid of typical safeguards such as religious employment exceptions, or even the ministerial exception unanimously recognized by the Supreme Court, PJI first sought amendments or assurances that the ordinance would not be interpreted or enforced in ways that impinged on religious freedom.”
“The city of De Pere refused to provide any such assurances, leaving the religious institutions vulnerable absent court action.”
The lawsuit says that the way the city adopted the provision, and how it has handled concerns since then is alarming.
“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,” the filing states.
“If the ordinance cannot be interpreted in a manner that exempts religious entities, the plaintiffs seek a declaration that it is unconstitutional.”
It asks for recognition that the churches do not fall within the definition of “discrimination,” arguing they are not public accommodations.
The city’s requirement would create problems for churches that teach traditional views of marriage and sexual ethics.
For example, the sermons of Crosspoint pastor Jerry Lewin are promoted and published on the church’s website.
“This teaching and preaching is consistent with the theological position of Grace International. If Pastor Lewin were to communicate a position regarding sex and marriage inconsistent with the teaching of Grace International, he would be defrocked,” the filing states.
Further, Hope Lutheran “allows outside groups to use the facilities only at the church’s discretion. Church facilities will not be made available for an activity which is at odds with the teachings of the church.”
“Grace International’s Statement of Faith addresses marriage as follows; ‘We believe that marriage and family are institutions ordained by the Lord God Himself from the very beginning of human history and these are sacred institutions. Marriage is between one man and one woman.”
None of those positions, like those held by other plaintiffs, aligns with the politically correct promotions of alternative sexual lifestyles that the ordinance purports to protect.
The ordinance demands that places of “public accommodation” include “all establishments within the city of De Pere which offers goods, services, accommodations and entertainment to the public.”
Does that, the lawsuit asks, include churches?
The state constitution, it argues, states that the “right of every person to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed.”
“The plaintiffs contend that under the religion clauses of the First Amendment neither a municipality nor the courts possess jurisdiction to resolve employment disputes between a church and its clergy.”
City officials declined to comment, but they posted a notice on their website about an “informational presentation” on the issue from a representative from the Inclusive Excellence and Pride Center in town.