LGBT ordinance’s failure analyzed
POCATELLO — When attorney Jacki Pick of the Heritage Foundation arrived in Pocatello on April 4 she was able to secure time in a City Council work session prior to a public hearing on a new proposed ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination when it comes to housing, employment and public accommodations.
Pick told council members and Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad that the ordinance they were considering would violate the religious freedoms of some residents.
Pick contacted Mayor Blad again last week and provided him via email with a new proposed ordinance that removed criminal sanctions for violations and essentially allowed those with “sincere religious beliefs” in opposition to the gay lifestyle to discriminate, according to Deputy City Attorney Kirk Bybee. Bybee spent months crafting the ordinance that failed Thursday.
Blad said he will consider different sources and proposed amendments from all council members during a work session on a new ordinance May 9.
“My job as mayor is to bring the community together,” Blad said.
Thursday night Bybee told council members he would not be comfortable using the ordinance submitted for review by Pick.
“People's religious beliefs trumps everything else — it allows the use of religious claims to get away with discrimination,” Bybee said about the Heritage Foundation document.
Idaho's statewide anti-discrimination laws already protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, age, religious affiliation or handicap. And violations are criminal. Attempts by pro-gay rights advocates to get the Idaho Legislature to consider adding gender orientation to anti-discrimination law have been unsuccessful.
Three Idaho cities, Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow, have already passed an ordinance similar to the one rejected by Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad on Thursday night after a 3-3 split vote by the council.
Pocatello's proposed ordinance that failed was fashioned after the state's anti-discrimination law when it comes to other groups, according Bybee.
“This ordinance, as is every other ordinance that has passed in four cities in this state, is modeled after the state's anti-discrimination law,” Bybee told the council. “They've all criminalized the conduct.”
Bybee also pointed to the International Municipal Lawyers Association, IMLA, as a source for modeling anti-discrimination ordinances. He said ordinances like the civil penalty one promoted by the Heritage Foundation provide “no mechanisms to compensate someone who has suffered economic consequences from discrimination.”
After the meeting, the Journal was approached by several people who expressed concerns they had with the Heritage Foundation having influence on a local political decision.
The Heritage Foundation is a conservative “think tank” founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, Edwin Feulner and Joseph Coors of the Coors Brewing Co. The foundation is dedicated to promoting conservative ideas and causes and grew in influence during the Ronald Reagan presidency.
In 2012, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint resigned from the U.S. Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation. This week the foundation, based in Washington, attacked the bipartisan immigration reform bill released by the “Gang of Eight.”
In the past, the Heritage Foundation has championed the Defense of Marriage Act to prevent gay marriage in the U.S. According to a 2011 New York Times article, the foundation pulled out of the Conservative Political Action Conference that year because Republicans were including the gay group, GOProud.
The Heritage Foundation website offers the following statement about government action similar to the one debated in Pocatello on Thursday in a lengthy section dedicated to “Religion and Civil Society”:
“When civil liability or equal access to government benefits depends on private citizens adopting the “official” state position on controversial moral issues, the potential for infringement of religious liberty and rights of conscience is clear.”
Whether the model ordinance suggested by Heritage Foundation attorney Pick has any weight as the council considers a modified anti-discrimination ordinance remains to be seen, but Mayor Blad said he's looking forward to “getting this community all tied back together.”
“I'm excited about bringing a new one up,” Blad said about a planned June 6 hearing date.