Churches, radio station sue De Pere over anti-discrimination ordinance

File photo (WLUK/Scott Hurley)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- A group of five churches and a Christian radio station have filed suit against the City of De Pere regarding the anti-discrimination ordinance which goes into effect Thursday.

De Pere passed the ordinance Nov. 21, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ordinance says its intent is to promote equal rights: “To protect the health, safety and general welfare of all inhabitants of the city, and all persons employed and living within the city, it is declared to be the public policy of this city to foster and enforce to the fullest extent of the law equal opportunity employment, housing and public accommodations without regard to actual or perceived age, color, family status, gender identity and/or gender expression, marital status, national origin/ancestry, race, religion, military service or veteran status, person with disability, sex, sexual orientation, source of lawful income or victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.”

However, the five churches -- Hope Lutheran, Crosspoint, Destiny, St. Mark Lutheran, and Christ the Rock -- along with Lakeshore Communications (which operates Q90FM) filed suit last week, challenging the ordinance.

“Unlike many of its counterparts in other state, local and federal law, the De Pere ordinance does not clearly exempt religious organizations. Nor has the City been willing to assure religious institutions that they will not be subjected to the ordinance when it takes effect March 1, 2018. As a result, 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. Five churches and a religious broadcaster located in De Pere therefore bring this challenge seeking a construction of the ordinance that will protect their state and federal constitutional freedoms,” the 24-page lawsuit states.

The plantiffs ask for a declaration the ordinance does not apply to them, or that it be ruled unconstitutional.

The suit also details the religious beliefs of the various churches, and what they find problematic with the ordinance.

According to court records, the city has not been formally served with the lawsuit. Once that happens, it has 20 days to respond. No hearings have been scheduled.

"The Summons and Complaint have been forwarded to the City’s Insurance Company. We have no comment at this time," said City Attorney Judith Schmidt-Lehman, in an email to FOX 11.

Meanwhile, the city has a forum planned for Tuesday about the ordinance.

“The City wants to reach out to those in the community who may have questions on the City’s new anti-discrimination ordinance,” according to a news release.

The session will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Council Chambers, 335 S. Broadway St.

Q90FM statement on the lawsuit

Last November the City of DePere, Wisconsin, where our radio station is located, passed a “non-discrimination” ordinance effective March 1, 2018. The ordinance was passed to address the concerns of self-identified transgender people regarding housing, employment and services they could access in the City of DePere.
During the public hearings several Christian leaders expressed our concerns over the broad language in the ordinance. It is so broadly written that it would undermine constitutionally protected rights of churches and religious organizations to conduct their affairs in a manner consistent with our biblical mandates and principles. Churches and religious organizations could be put into a position to be forced to hire people who directly oppose the Bible’s teachings on gender and sexual activity. Churches and religious organizations could be forced to provide facilities and any or all services desired by people who self-identify as transgender. Our Christian Radio Station could be forced to promote events and organizations directly opposed to the teachings of God and His Word.
We appealed to the DePere City Council to take some time, consult with legal experts, and rewrite the ordinance in a way that would provide constitutionally protected rights of churches and religious organizations. They disregarded our appeal, passing the bill with Mayor Mike Walsh casting the tie-breaking vote for the ordinance.
This has forced our hand as Christian leaders and 5 churches in DePere along with Q90 FM Christian Radio, supported by The Pacific Justice Institute, have filed a legal challenge in Brown County Court asking the court to direct the City of DePere to rewrite the ordinance in a way that protects the freedoms of religious expression and speech guaranteed to churches and religious organizations by the United States Constitution, the State of Wisconsin Constitution and backed up by historic case law. The Court has agreed to hear our petition.
We harbor no ill will toward anyone struggling with the identity of their gender. But we also know that God and His Word offers hope to everyone no matter what we struggle with. We acknowledge that all people should be respected and loved as God’s Word teaches. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross so that sinful men could be reconciled to God. Every human being ever born has been tainted by our sin and rebellion against the God who created us and wants us to live with Him for eternity. We are all sinners. The various sins every one of us struggle with are equally distasteful and rebellious in the eyes of God no matter what they are. And it is only by the grace of God that we receive once we confess our sinful nature and ask for God’s forgiveness that can provide us peace and joy. As Christians this is the message we want to freely share with everyone no matter what our struggles.
But we cannot remain silent as the City of DePere passes legislation that directly contradicts our legal freedoms as Christian Churches and non-profit organizations---legislation that mandates we as Christian organizations violate our deeply-held biblical views on gender and sexuality. We ask you to pray for us and all parties involved that this issue be resolved in a peaceful, God-honoring way.
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