Churches win lawsuit against De Pere

    De Pere City Hall and Police Department, seen September 21, 2016. (WLUK)

    BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- A judge has ruled in favor of a group of De Pere churches which challenged the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

    De Pere passed an ordinance in November, 2017, which went into effect March 1. It prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

    However, the five churches -- Hope Lutheran, Crosspoint, Destiny, St. Mark Lutheran, and Christ the Rock -- along with Lakeshore Communications (which operates Q90FM), sued, seeking a declaration the ordinance does not apply to them, or that it be ruled unconstitutional. They maintained the ordinance is so broad it undermines their Constitutionally-protected rights to conduct their affairs in a manner consistent with religious mandates and principles.

    The city argued the churches failed to follow the proper procedure in filing the suit. It also argued the churches couldn’t show any specific example of damage being done.

    While a three-day trial was scheduled to start Feb. 19, Brown County Judge William Atkinson ruled in the churches favor Friday, ending the lawsuit.

    “Court finds that churches and their campuses are not public accommodations and the City of De Pere's ordinance infringes on the freedom of religion. Court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denies defendant's motion to dismiss,” court records say.

    De Pere City Attorney Judy Schmidt-Lehman said the city would not comment until the City Council reviews the decision.

    Kevin Snider, the attorney for the churches, said his clients are "pleased that the Court accepted their legal theory of the case and ruled to protect their rights of conscience under Wisconsin's Constitution."

    "The Ordinance was calculated to re-label religious institutions as places of public accommodation. Had the Court gone the other way, it would have been the first time in the country that a church or religious ministry was deemed a place of public accommodation. The City is entitled to its own worldview on religion, marital status, and sexual orientation. But it cannot use the power of the state to pry open the doors of a church to force it to participate in conduct against its faith through the guise of a an anti-discrimination law," he said in an email to Fox 11.

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