SAN ANTONIO – Reports were swirling earlier this week that a prominent megachurch minister in Texas was no longer opposed to an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes protection for homosexuals. However, the initial outlet that broke the story has since been notified by the pastor that this is actually not the case.
As previously reported, the San Antonio city council drafted a revised discrimination policy earlier this summer, featuring controversial measures regarding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” One of the measures would have banned anyone who had “demonstrate[d] a bias, by word or deed, against any person … on the basis of … sexual orientation [or] gender identity” from working in the city government.
Following a public outcry over the unprecedented rules, San Antonio councilmembers released a revised draft of the proposed discrimination policy, which no longer includes the aforementioned provisions. However, the 21-page ordinance still maintains that discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” is “malfeasance.”
“No appointed official or member of a board or commission,” the ordinance draft states, “shall engage in discrimination or demonstrate a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability, while acting in such public position. Violation of this standard shall be considered malfeasance in office, and the City Council shall be authorized to take action as provided by law to remove the offending person from office.”
Furthermore, Section 2-592 of the discrimination policy would make it unlawful for anyone in the city to “discriminate against, withhold from or deny any person” use of public facilitates and services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Some see this as similar to—and even broader than—California’s recent “bathroom bill.”
During a sermon last Sunday titled “A Place Called Heaven,” Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church—a San Antonio megachurch with over 20,000 regular members—briefly addressed the discrimination ordinance situation. Following the message, San Antonio Express-News reported that the pastor was “OK” with the updated policy, despite the aforementioned controversial measures.
“All of the previous language that infringed upon the freedom of speech, the freedom of exercise of religion and the ability for people of faith to serve on City Council has been expunged,” Hagee reportedly told churchgoers. This proclamation prompted a standing ovation from the audience members.
However, Hagee released a statement of clarification later in the week, explaining that his comments were not an endorsement of the anti-discrimination ordinance, and that the San Antonio Express-News had published a “misleading headline” and an “erroneous assertion.” Rather than supporting the measure, he is simply pleased that the rule regarding past discriminatory offenses “by word or deed” was removed from the draft.
“After speaking with San Antonio City Councilman Bernal, it was explained to me that the portions of the proposed ordinance that were most offensive to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, with respect to people of faith being able to serve on the San Antonio City Council, were deleted,” Hagee explained in the statement. “This is a significant victory for people of faith who oppose the ordinance. I understand other concerns remain, and I encourage those who share these concerns to continue their efforts to ensure that this ordinance will in no way discriminate against people of faith.”
Hagee is certainly not the only one with continued qualms over the proposed discrimination policies. Robert Wilson of the Alliance Defending Freedom says the ordinance would jeopardize the religious freedoms of city officials.
“[There is] no protection for people in how they speak and express their religious beliefs,” Wilson told reporters. “On one hand, (the proposal) is promoting equality. On the other hand, it criminalizes religious convictions if a business does not operate according to the way the city says.”
Likewise, Phil Sevila of the Texas Leadership Coalition—a San Antonio-based Catholic organization—said he will not support the ordinance in its current form, even though Bernal personally tried to convince him otherwise.
“This type of ordinance is widely known around the country as resulting in reverse discrimination and so under no circumstances are we going to support it,” Sevila firmly stated. “This kind of incremental change does not make it acceptable.”