I believe that the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance for Boise needs to be changed.
I agree with the intent of this ordinance. Boise should be a safe place for all of its citizens. Everyone who lives in our city should be free to find work, housing, and enjoy the great public spaces our city has to offer. However, I am concerned that this ordinance does not accomplish its stated goal of treating all citizens equally. If passed in its current form, this ordinance would not allow for the religious freedom of some individuals within our city.
Under the proposed ordinance, individuals whose church has a stated position on homosexuality could not refuse business for religious reasons. A wedding coordinator could not opt out of a gay wedding. A musician could not refuse to perform at Pride Week celebrations. A website designer would not be allowed to turn down a contract to produce content promoting homosexuality. The mayor’s spokesman has confirmed that the ordinance would have this effect.
As a Catholic, Mayor Dave Bieter’s own faith community recently took a stand on this issue. On Nov. 10, the Vatican reaffirmed its position on the definition of marriage. I don’t know how Mayor Bieter will respond to the statement of his church, but some within the local Catholic community will certainly choose to align themselves with the pope. As a result, a freelance photographer in Mayor Bieter’s church who refuses to photograph two men kissing could spend six months in jail. I believe that’s wrong. The First Amendment guarantees the right for Catholic citizens to follow the directives of their church and the laws of Boise should be consistent with the protections of the U.S. Constitution. I am not arguing for or against the position of the Catholic Church. I’m simply asking the City Council to draft laws that treat all people equally and allow individual citizens the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
Please understand that I am not just speaking of personal beliefs but of actual religious convictions. A number of churches and national denominations now have written statements on human sexuality. This ordinance would require private contractors to engage in business contracts that violate the written position of these churches. Again, I am not arguing for or against the positions of these churches. Rather, I am stating that this ordinance will put individuals in a position where they have to choose between obedience to the law and obedience to the stated position of their church. I don’t believe that is a position that the city of Boise should force upon its citizens.
I serve as a local pastor. There are members of my church who work as independent contractors for local weddings and anniversaries as wedding coordinators, photographers, bakers, caterers and musicians. This ordinance will force them to choose between obeying the law and obeying the stated position of our church. The same is true for many other churches and denominations within our city.
The current form of this ordinance does not treat all citizens of our city equally in that it doesn’t provide for the religious freedoms of independent contractors whose convictions would prevent them from engaging in certain business activities.
I ask the City Council to change this ordinance by providing an additional exception. This ordinance would be better if there was an exception to the public accommodation section for private individuals who operate their business as independent contractors. It would improve the ordinance by accomplishing the original intent while still allowing for the religious freedom of individuals in our community.
Brian Merz is discipleship pastor at Summit Church of Boise.