Wichita proposal: allow religious groups to fire LGBT workers



Rebecca Jenek addresses Wichita City Council on July 13 regarding a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance the council was considering.

Rebecca Jenek addresses Wichita City Council on July 13 regarding a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance the council was considering.

The Wichita Eagle

After four months of controversy, Wichita will take its third step when it finally passes an anti-discrimination ordinance on Tuesday, including an amendment that would allow religious groups to fire or refuse to hire LGBTQ + people at will.

The most recently approved version of the ordinance, passed on first reading on July 7, allowed religious groups to discriminate in employment practices when an employee was directly involved in fulfilling the organizations’ religious mission.

An amendment since proposed by board member Jared Cerullo, a married gay man, would extend the exemption for religious groups to firing or refusing to hire LGBTQ + employees, including those who primarily work in secular jobs such as cleaning the bathroom. offices, truck driving or catering.

Cerullo said he proposed the amendment after hearing religious organizations say they shouldn’t have to employ someone whose lifestyle conflicts with their beliefs.

The Cerullo Amendment would clarify that “the following practices are not discriminatory practices prohibited by this ordinance: (1) A religious organization that employs an individual to perform work associated with the religious organization that insists that employees adhere to the principles of religious organization as a condition of employment. (2) Nothing in this Ordinance obliges an employer to hire or retain unskilled persons or to retain employees where there is a legitimate, non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reason for terminating the employment.

Cerullo said it was part of a compromise that included another amendment he proposed that would allow the winning party in a discrimination complaint to ask for reasonable attorney fees.

He said both provisions stemmed from negotiations that included Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay rights organization, and that this group has agreed not to oppose it.

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the group agreed with the original language but agreed not to oppose the ordinance as long as Cerullo’s two amendments remained there.

“I finally said at the most recent (meeting), ‘Look, if you want us to stay away on this (religious exemption), we will, but we want the attorney fees be included in the same package of amendments, all voted on at the same time, because I do not play the game of one pass and the other fails. Either everything goes or everything dies.

He said he had heard about the amendments since they emerged late last week.

“This amendment is not our job, not our idea, we are good with what came before,” Witt said. “These are people on the city council’s attempt to appease the far right, who frankly I don’t know they’re going to find this acceptable (but) that’s the only problem they kept on. raise at city council meetings. “

The charge of expanded religious exemptions has been led primarily by the Kansas Catholic Conference and the Kansas Catholic bishops. Spokesman for these two groups, former state lawmaker Chuck Weber, said they still oppose the ordinance.

“I participated in the Kansas Leadership Center process and raised a number of issues and objections against the NDO that seem to be almost completely ignored,” Weber said in a text.

“I haven’t seen the Cerullo language. I understand that this exemption does not help and that the Catholic Church cannot support the proposed NDO. The religious freedoms of private citizens are still violated under the NDO. We believe that federal and state laws address all of the concerns raised by supporters of NDOs. “

Earlier, Weber had expressed concern in an email to The Eagle that limiting the religious exemption to those who perform religious duties would force the church, its hospitals, and its social service organizations “to actively accept, embrace, and cooperate with. with activities that they find morally unhealthy. and in conflict with their deeply held religious beliefs.

The ordinance followed the most tortured path of any municipal law in recent memory.

The city had an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public housing, but it mysteriously disappeared from the city code in 1998 and city officials were unable to explain how or why.

This year, Mayor Brandon Whipple initially proposed a new nondiscrimination ordinance based on Topeka’s. But it hit headwinds on opposition from LGBTQ + advocates, as there was no enforcement provision.

The weekend before it was voted on, Whipple replaced it with a model order drafted by the National Human Rights Campaign and Equality Kansas, which presented it to council on June 15.

It passed its first reading, but stumbled on the second and final vote amid strong opposition from religious interests.

This ordinance was eventually removed from review and replaced with a new one modeled on Overland Park.

It also got initial approval on July 7. But again, he stuck between the first and the last vote.

A majority of the board decided to postpone until this month to allow time for the District Advisory Councils to speak out and the brand new Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights Advisory Council to make their suggestions.

As part of the process, the city spent nearly $ 18,000 on the Kansas Leadership Center to hold a town hall on the ordinance and to prepare a report on the comments received.

There are two other significant changes since the council took its last shot at the ordinance, both proposed by the advisory council.

One deals with non-binding complaint mediation, a stage in which disputing parties will be encouraged to engage before moving on to a formal hearing process.

In the previous version, both parties would choose their own mediator and share the bill. Under the amended order, the CEO’s office will select mediators and pay for them.

The council’s other amendment would ban discrimination based on citizenship status.

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Senior reporter Dion Lefler has provided award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion is originally from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other newspapers. He is a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries for The United Methodist Church, and plays second base for the Old Cowtown baseball team.



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