Religious-Right Groups Want to Gut Protections, Support Discrimination in San Antonio

by Dan Quinn

Religious-right groups are demanding that San Antonio’s nondiscrimination policies include a religious exemption for individuals — an exemption that would effectively gut not just proposed protections for LGBT people (protections those anti-gay groups oppose), but also existing protections against discrimination based on gender, race, age, disability and even religion.

The offices of San Antonio City Council members have been flooded with phone calls and emails from religious-right activists who oppose an effort to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policies. They have been pointing to an existing part of the city code that says “no person shall be appointed to a position if the City Council finds that such person” has engaged in discriminatory behavior. That provision, they dishonestly claim, would effectively ban Christians (or at least Christians who don’t like gay people) from city offices even though it has never been interpreted in such a way.

Council member Diego Bernal has stricken that “prior discrimination” provision in his proposal to add sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran’s status to the city’s nondiscrimination policies. Moreover, his proposed measure would continue to exempt churches and other religious nonprofits from the city’s ban on discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. But that hasn’t satisfied religious-right groups like Plano-based Liberty Institute, one of the most stridently anti-gay organizations in the state. Those groups claim that not including a religious exemption also for individuals violates the religious freedom of those individuals.

They are outrageously perverting the meaning of religious liberty. Government should not infringe on the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs. But the issue here is whether individuals should be permitted to impose their personal religious beliefs on others who don’t share those beliefs.

Indeed, including a religious exemption for individuals would effectively gut anti-discrimination protections for everyone. An individual whose religion teaches that women shouldn’t work outside the home could then discriminate against women in the workplace, for example. Similarly, a person whose religion preaches racial supremacy could then claim the right to refuse to hire or serve people of another race. Civil rights protections would be meaningless.

Liberty Institute and other religious-right groups don’t care. Their extremist position in favor of discrimination against LGBT Texans puts the rights of everyone at risk. It also would keep San Antonio behind other Texas cities — like Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Houston — that already include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimation policies.

The City Council’s final vote on the proposed nondiscrimination measure has been delayed until at least early September. Meanwhile, anti-gay activists — activists spreading lies and distortions about the proposed policy — are calling San Antonio City Council offices in opposition. Don’t let theirs be the only voices heard.

If you live in San Antonio, please contact these four council members and ask them to support protecting LGBT people and veterans in employment, housing and public accommodations:

District 2 – Ivy Taylor, 210-207-7278

District 3 – Rebecca Viagran, 210-207-7064

District 7 – Cris Medina, 210-207-7044

District 8 – Ron Nirenberg, 210-207-7086

Let council members know you’re in favor of including gender identity, sexual orientation and veteran’s status in the city’s nondiscrimination protections. If you have been fired or not hired because of your sexual orientation, your gender identity, or because you are a veteran, tell them that too. Everyone should be treated fairly and equally. People shouldn’t lose their jobs or be denied service just because of who they are.

Click here for a fact sheet about the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance: SA NDO Fact Sheet.