I’m sure you’ve heard this before. A city or town, at the behest of the local LGBT activist group, passes a “non-discrimination” law protecting “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the public accommodations and employment context. The city leaves out any protection for faith-based organizations that hold to biblical standards regarding marriage and sexuality, and conflict results.
That scenario is playing out once again.
South Euclid, Ohio, is the latest municipality to pass a SOGI (which stands for “sexual orientation and gender identity”) ordinance. The city council of South Euclid worked with Equality Ohio—an LGBT activist organization—to create the ordinance. It does not contain a religious exemption. In fact, a religious exemption contained in early drafts of the ordinance was ultimately removed prior to its passage. It does, however, include extreme penalties of up to $500 in fines per occurrence or up to 60 days in jail.
The Lyceum is a Catholic college preparatory school founded in 2003, and it’s located in South Euclid. It is organized and operated in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which include hewing to biblical standards regarding marriage and human sexuality. While students don’t have to be Catholic to attend, they (and their parents) must agree with those teachings and standards. If not, they will not be admitted. The same standards apply for teachers and administrators in order to be employed by the school.
The school was quite concerned that the new city ordinance would put it at risk of fines and/or jail time, since its beliefs and practices appeared to violate the ordinance’s requirements. So the school asked the city more than once if the ordinance applied to the school. There was no definitive answer given. The school then utilized the state’s open records request law to gain the information, but the city illegally refused to respond.
As a final option, the school filed a lawsuit in April against the city, with the help of attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The lawsuit alleged that the application of the ordinance against the school would violate the school’s First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and speech, and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The filing of the lawsuit apparently attracted the city council’s attention, because it has now agreed that the ordinance does not apply to the school.
In announcing a settlement and dismissal of the school’s lawsuit, Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with ADF, said in a statement: “No one should have to file a federal lawsuit simply to find out whether they are violating a vague law with criminal penalties. We’re disappointed that the city didn’t do the right thing right from the start, but we’re pleased that it now acknowledges that The Lyceum’s parents, students, and faculty have the freedom to seek out this unique, faith-based education and maintain community standards rooted in Catholic teaching.”
Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the last SOGI ordinance we hear about nor the last lawsuit filed to vindicate religious freedom under such an ordinance. Indeed, there is a bill before Congress at the moment labeled as H.R. 5, the deceptively named “Equality Act.” It has already passed the House of Representatives, but it looks to have a more difficult time in the Senate. If H.R. 5 ever became law, a national 50-state SOGI would suddenly become the law of the land. And that bill specifically removes a major religious defense available to faith-based organizations and individuals – the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
People of all faiths who hew to similar beliefs about one man, one woman marriage and human sexuality need to stay informed and vigilant about the rise of these types of laws, and together fight for the cause of religious freedom at the local, state and national level. There are great sources of help available from legal organizations such as ADF, First Liberty, Becket Law and others, so you don’t have to go it alone.
And above all, pray for these situations as they arise, and for your elected representatives, that God’s will be done.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom