Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who is threatening who in the debate over "fairness" ordinance?

The following op-ed was published in last Friday's edition of the Danville Advocate-Messenger. The City Commission voted last night to approve the "fairness" ordinance, but they reportedly exempted Sunrise Children's Services.

You're supposed to find out a newspaper's opinion on an issue by reading the editorial page. But when it comes to the so-called "Fairness" Ordinance, we got to find it out by reading a front page news story.

After a meeting of the City Commission in which it gave a first reading to a proposed gay rights ordinance, a story appeared in the Advocate-Messenger titled, "Danville passes first reading of fairness ordinance despite threats."

If you read the story itself what you find that the "threat" referred to is the promise by an attorney for Sunrise Children's Services to fight the ordinance in court because it would quite literally threaten the existence of its ministry to abused and neglected children.

Sunrise is what used to be called an "orphanage." How did a threat to an orphanage from an ordinance get turned into a threat to an ordinance by an orphanage?

Not only is this poor reporting, it doesn't even rise to the level of a competent opinion.

Maybe we should just be glad it isn't widows too who are standing between the advocates of this ideologically-driven law and its passage. What would the Advocate-Messenger's headline be then?

If this ordinance had to do with anything other than gay rights there would be outraged editorials written (on the opinion page) about how abused and neglected children are threatened by a law.

Although it is hard to prove animus, it has been fairly clear from the beginning that the impulse among supporters of this ordinance was to target religious groups. The only cases which this law would ever realistically cover are cases involving church ministries.

Gays now enjoy a privileged status in broader society and there are very few confirmed cases of discrimination by private businesses. Both private businesses and government entities not only do not discriminate against gays: a growing number of them grant gays explicit benefits.

Practically speaking, the only cases such an ordinance would apply to are religious organizations like Sunrise.

In fact, anyone who doubts that the impetus behind this law is anti-religious in nature and that it is designed to infringe on First Amendment protections needs to read an e-mail sent to the Commission by J. P. and Jane Brantley, Tim Culhan, and Eric Mount, three of the most vocal advocates of the measure, which was obtained from the Commission through an open records request. The e-mail is filled with demands to delete language in the ordinance that affirms religious freedom protections.

The e-mail argued that language in the ordinance that "indirectly allows a person's religious beliefs to serve as an exemption from the requirements of the ordinance" should be taken out. "Such language," said the authors, "runs counter to the purpose of the fairness ordinance."

It sure does.

Although the Commission retained language in the ordinance that gives lip service to religious freedom protections, it caved in to the group's demand that Sunrise be included in its coverage.

When the Commission votes on this measure on Tuesday night, it needs to explain to the public how it can justify passing a law that prohibits largely non-existent discrimination at the risk of threatening a ministry that doesn't get much respect in newspaper headlines, but has helped hundreds of abused and neglected children.

Martin Cothran is senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky and is a Danville resident.

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