Religious Supporters, Opponents Clash On Proposed Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Sep 4, 2013

San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance is not only attracting supporters and opposition from secular communities, faith leaders are also weighing in on the issue that would add gender identity, sexual orientation and veteran status to the list of protected classes in the city.

The proposal has been on the table for months, allowing ample time for dialogue and debate.

But the conversation will conclude on Thursday when the city council will finally vote on whether to add the three groups of people to the list of protections already in place.

Among the recent arguments for and against the non-discrimination proposal is religion.

So far advocates of the ordinance say more than 60 faith leaders have signed a letter of support, including Rev. Charles Fredrickson.

Fredrickson leads The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, a congregation that accepts lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"As faith leaders from a wide range of denominations, faith traditions and communities from across San Antonio, we dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and work daily to promote justice and fairness for all God's children," he said during a rally on the steps of City Hall Tuesday.

Fredrickson stood with others to announce their hope that the ordinance passes.

Mick Hinson of the Metropolitan Community Church said throughout history, people have misused scripture to cause confusion and instill fear in people:

"In the mid-1800s the church used a few verses out of context to try to derail giving freedom to slaves," Hinson said. "In the early 1900s, the church used a few verses out of context to try and stop equal rights for women. In the mid-1900s, the church used a few verses out of context to try and prevent the civil rights movement.

"Henry Ford once said: 'Those who fail to learn from lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.’ Here we go again. A portion of the church, not all of it, is using a few verses out of context to try and stop the passage of the human rights ordinance," Hinson added.

Rabbi Elisa Koppel from Temple Beth-El said the Jewish people are no stranger to being outsiders:

"In the Torah, the most sacred text of Judaism, in Exodus 22:20, we read, 'You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,'" she told the press gathered. "This idea is at our core."

Koppel said she has used the debate in her sermons. So has Rev. Leslie Price of Christ Lutheran Church.

Without explicitly discussing the city’s proposal, Price preached in the broader context of inclusion, pointing out that God is angered by division.

"This God, who loves all of his children the same so that when one of us goes without food or shelter, or when one of us is left out and excluded by another, God's heart of love is wounded and God gets angry," Price said.

But opponents believe the proposal tramples religious freedom and stifles free speech.

Jonathan Saenz leads Texas Values, a group dedicated to preserving and advancing a culture of family values in Texas. Last week, he and others stood at the very same spot and argued their points against the ordinance.

"The extreme power grab by the city council government on this issue is something that shocks the conscience and has tarnished the rich religious heritage of the city of San Antonio," said Saenz.

"And if Mayor Castro and Councilman Diego Bernal were looking for a way to divide the people in the city of San Antonio, they found it with this ordinance."

Saenz and Pastor Charles Flowers of the Faith Outreach Church, spoke on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. half a century ago.

Flowers said he thinks the law is still being used to lock up people's liberty:

"It's a promissory note that is embedded within the rights of the Constitution that all people are created equal," he said. "But when you begin to construct laws 50 years later that silence the mouths of people and close their ideas out of the marketplace and out of the government, it is still very evident that we have quite a distance to go in this nation, and this is why we must, we must not let this law pass."

City leaders and those who support the ordinance believe updating the city code will strengthen the community by fostering an atmosphere of respect that will protect everyone's right to the very ideals opponents think will be taken away.