Montgomery’s non-discrimination order bad for religious freedom, free speech and public safety
On June 24, 2021, the Montgomery advertiser reported that the mayor of Montgomery, Steven Reed, would submit an ordinance to city council that would punish discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This municipal council will likely vote this ordinance at its next meeting. The Alabama Center for Law and Liberty obtained a copy of the proposed order and posted it on its website. While claiming to protect the civil rights of all, Mayor Reed is effectively depriving religious faithful of their civil rights and the most vulnerable among us of their right to safety.
Let’s start with the implications for churches. You would think churches would be completely banned from government, but think again. The ordinance prohibits anyone from restricting “the right to full enjoyment of any of the accommodation, benefits, facilities or privileges of any place of … assembly … without discrimination”. A church, by definition, is an assembly. Therefore, it appears that this ordinance will force churches to let transgender people use the toilets of their choice or face fines if they do not.
This ordinance also has implications for public safety. Because it defines gender identity as “the gender identity, expression, appearance or ways, real or perceived, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual,” an institution cannot question whether an individual is really transgender if that person simply expresses, appears or acts that way. Therefore, in order to access a women’s washroom, locker room, or showers, a sexual predator will simply have to behave as if they are transgender. Despite all its claims to want to protect the weak, liberalism is alarmingly willing to subject women and children to severe trauma.
This ordinance will also harm Christians who want to run their businesses according to their faith. You may have heard of Jack phillips, the Colorado Christian pastry chef who was sued after politely refusing to create a personalized cake for a gay marriage. You may also have heard of Catholic Social Services, a Catholic adoption agency that the City of Philadelphia issued an ultimatum to after refusing to place children in homes with same-sex couples. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr Phillips and Catholic Social Services on narrow grounds, but the question of whether Christians can run their businesses in accordance with their faith is far from settled. So Montgomery Christians may face similar lawsuits.
Homeowners will face similar issues. The ordinance applies to “obtaining housing for rent or for sale”. This seems trivial at first glance since homosexuals and transgender people obviously need housing to live. However, this ordinance appears to cover not only basic housing needs but also transactions such as booking a room in a guesthouse or traveling on Airbnb etc. In Hawaii, for example, a Catholic woman who ran a bed and breakfast outside her home was fine for refusing to rent a room to a same-sex couple. She insisted that everyone, gay or straight, abide by Christian teachings on sex in their home. Without a doubt, she should have been allowed to do it, but Hawaii didn’t care. Apparently, neither may Mayor Reed.
Finally, this ordinance is bad for freedom of expression. LGBT advocates like the Human Rights Campaign argue that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for who they are, and therefore people like Jack Phillips should praise same-sex marriage even if they aren’t. disagree. However, if we turn the tables, we should ask ourselves whether a gay bakery should be forced to bake a cake for a religious person with the words, “You won’t sleep with a man like you sleep with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22) By the same logic, the religious person should not face discrimination since his religion is as essential to his identity as the sexuality of the homosexual person is to his.
Mayor Reed and his allies would probably believe the gay pastry chef shouldn’t have to say that – and they would be right. But neither should the Christian be forced to say something contrary to his beliefs. “Speak for me, but not for yourself” is incompatible with the First Amendment.
Finally, impose this order on one of the most religious towns in the United States is political suicide. If the city council passes it, voters will remember how the city put most of them in the crosshairs.
Matt clark serves as Alabama Center for Law and Freedom Executive director. The ACLL is the nonprofit litigation arm of the Alabama Policy Institute.