Topeka, KS, Apr 25, 2012 (CNA) - A proposed ordinance in Hutchinson, Kansas could force individuals and institutions – including Catholic churches – to host and participate in events that violate Church teachings on sexuality.
“As far as individuals go, there doesn't seem to be any likelihood that there will be a protection or an exemption for them,” said Kansas Catholic Conference Executive Director Michael Schuttloffel, addressing a proposal to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in the city of Hutchinson.
“As far as religious institutions, that will depend entirely on what sort of exemption – if any – is put in place (by the city council) … If there is none, then you could conceivably have a Catholic church that is forced to host a ceremony that violates Catholic beliefs.”
Schuttloffel spoke to CNA on April 24, as members of Hutchinson's Human Relations Commission prepared for a meeting the following day to finalize their “Proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protections.”
The proposal will be submitted to the Hutchinson City Council, which will make a decision on May 15 about adding the categories to the list of “protected classes” – along with categories like race, sex, and disability – in the city code.
Human Relations Commission spokesperson Meryl Dye told Fox News that parts of the proposed rule would apply to churches, which she said “would not be able to discriminate against gay and lesbian or transgender individuals.”
Dye confirmed that the “type of protection” proposed for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals “parallels to what you find in race discrimination. If a church provides lodging or rents a facility they could not discriminate based on race. It’s along that kind of thinking.”
In his remarks to CNA, Schuttloffel noted that the proposal is still “early in the process” of rule-making, and its outcome is not yet clear.
But the essence of the proposal, he said, is a radical breach of religious freedom, comparable to the federal contraception mandate.
“Religious freedom is very much under attack in this country, at various levels of government,” he observed. “Obviously, there's the contraceptive mandate at the federal level – but also there's stuff like this at the local level, that's popping up more and more.”
The Kansas Catholic Conference director believes the Hutchinson ordinance is “very much part of a strategy.” Believers, he said, “are vulnerable to these things at the local level, because there aren't the same defense systems in place that there are at the state or federal level.”
Local threats “are dangerous, but they don't get the same level of media attention. I don't think most people are even aware that it's going on at all.”
“They're being packaged as 'anti-discrimination ordinances,' when in fact their entire purpose is to discriminate against people of faith,” he warned. “When a city passes an ordinance like this, they take the position that our views are 'bigoted.'”
An exemption for churches would not make the situation any more acceptable in principle, he explained.
“Even then, an 'exemption' still suggests that in the normal order of affairs, Catholic teaching on this issue is bigoted. We reject that entire premise, that the city should be taking sides against people of faith on these issues.”
Schutloffel called attention to the case of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for refusing to photograph a lesbian ceremony, and the more dramatic cautionary example of Britain where “equality” laws put an end to Catholic adoption agencies.
“This is a very serious business,” he stated, warning the nation to pay close attention to what is about to happen in Hutchinson.
“These ordinances are being drafted to force people, to coerce people, into participating in conduct that violates their religious beliefs. It's a form of government coercion against individual people – and, if there's no exemption for churches, against religious institutions.”
“That of course runs completely counter to the 200-year tradition of religious freedom that we have in this country. If we can't protect that right after 200 years, and if a city council can overturn the first protection of the First Amendment, it raises the question of whether this is even America anymore.”