Springfield’s Discrimination Law Change

This week the Springfield City Council had their first public meeting in consideration of Council Bill 2012-226 (http://www.springfieldmo.gov/citycouncil/agenda/2012/08-13-12/2012-226.pdf). The proposed bill seeks to prevent discrimination in the City of Springfield, specifically protection from discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity with regard to employment, recreation, education, housing and other phases of public welfare.

In addressing this issue there will be those who will view this blog as the writings of a bigoted, narrow-minded, fundamentalist evangelical Christian whose only agenda is hatred. For the record, I am not pro-discrimination or homophobic. This blog is not being written because I harbor any pent-up anger against the LGBTQ community. I love the people of Springfield and have a desire to see the city flourish. That being said, I do believe that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin, not a cardinal sin, but it is sin nonetheless, and thus the church has an obligation to, in the words of Paul, speak the truth in love that people might be redeemed.

The debate over this bill is a microcosm of a debate that is currently playing itself out nationally in almost every cultural sphere. However, the unfortunate reality is that, ever so subtly, this debate has been framed by defining disagreement as discrimination and, subsequently, as hate or even a hate crime. The areas of primary concern in this bill are as follows:

  1. It violates the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;
  2. It does not provide an adequate religious exemption; and
  3. It does not provide a clear determination of gender identity in the accommodation language.

First Amendment

Line 70 in the bill provides the commission the power to enlist religious groups to assist in providing education on sexual orientation and gender identity. This mandate is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in that it does prohibit free exercise of religion. The bill essentially places the government in a position to advocate what religion should endorse and teach.

Religious Exemption

Section 62-34 (7) provides a religious exemption, however, the exemption is more narrow than the exemption presently provided by the Missouri Human Rights Act or the proposed federal Employee Nondiscrimination in Employment Act (HR 2015) that was introduced in Congress in 2007 by former Congressman Barney Frank. As well, the exemption allows a preference for “members of its own religion” with no definition. Theologically there are differences between groups/denominations within the Christian religion. There are some who embrace and ordain clergy regardless of sexual orientation, and there are some who do not. The way the exemption is worded, a church could say they do not hire homosexuals, but if a complainant indicates that they too are a “Christian” and thus part of the “religion,” the church within the city limits of Springfield would not be permitted to discriminate on a valid theological viewpoint (a viewpoint that is in fact the historic, traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of millennia). Just as concerning is that this exemption would be nearly impossible to invoke for a Christian school or para-church entity that does hire outside its own particular denomination, membership, or faith.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (H.R.2015.IH) (“ENDA”) provides much better language on this topic. I would suggest adopting this language, which states:

SEC. 6. EXEMPTION FOR RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS.

(a) In General- This Act shall not apply to any of the employment practices of a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society which has as its primary purpose religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.

(b) Certain Employees- For any religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that is not wholly exempt under subsection (a), this Act shall not apply with respect to the employment of individuals whose primary duties consist of teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, religious governance, supervision of a religious order, supervision of persons teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, or supervision or participation in religious ritual or worship.

(c) Conformity to Religious Tenets- Under this Act, a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society may require that applicants for, and employees in, similar positions conform to those religious tenets that such corporation, association, institution, or society declares significant. Under this Act, such a declaration by a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society stating which of its religious tenets are significant shall not be subject to judicial or administrative review. Any such declaration made for purposes of this Act shall be admissible only for proceedings under this Act.

I am in full agreement with the position of Dr. George Wood, Assemblies of God General Superintendent, who wrote the following to the Springfield City Council:

I am writing to express my concern over a proposed ordinance that could subject churches in the City of Springfield to liability for discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the ordinance contains an exemption for religious organizations, the exemption is narrower than that provided by the Missouri Human Rights Act or the proposed federal Employee Nondiscrimination in Employment Act (HR 2015) that was introduced in Congress in 2007 by former Congressman Barney Frank. I find it incongruous that the City of Springfield would adopt a much narrower exemption for religious organizations than comparable state and federal laws, and respectfully suggest that the City Council revise the religious employer exemption in the proposed ordinance to mirror the broader exemption under Missouri law or the federal Employee Nondiscrimination in Employment Act.

Gender Identity Accommodation

If gender identity demands public accommodation, at what point do you draw the line? Could an individual on the basis of gender identity choose to enter the restroom or locker room of the opposite sex? The bill itself is ambiguous. Under Sec 62-182 it states that it is possible to have a “women’s bowling night” but gender identity definition includes “appearance, or mannerisms.”  Does that mean if a male dresses in female attire or merely adopts female mannerisms they can attend any female event or enter any female dressing room or public restroom?

Given these areas of concern, I have written Springfield’s City Council asking them to reconsider their efforts in regard to this bill. If you believe these concerns are valid, then I would strongly encourage you to make your voice heard, but when you make it heard, I would even more strongly encourage you to make it heard in a way that communicates love for people.

John Lindell
Lead Pastor, James River Assembly

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