AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas-based U.S. Pastor Council has filed suit against the City of Austin to challenge the lack of an exemption in its non-discrimination ordinance to accommodate the hiring practices of area churches.
Austin City Code states that “[a]n employer may not fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability.”
The U.S. Pastor Council says that the ordinance is problematic for churches, which need to select their pastors and other staff in accordance with Scripture, and will not hire those who are living in unrepentant sin.
“[T]he ordinance provides no exemptions or accommodations for employers who hold religious objections to homosexuality or transgender behavior,” the lawsuit states. “Every church in Austin that refuses to hire practicing homosexuals as clergy or church employees is violating city law and subject to civil penalties and liability.”
It notes that the Bible has specific moral requirements for church leadership.
“Because these member churches rely on the Bible rather than modern-day cultural fads for religious and moral guidance, they will not hire practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy,” the legal challenge explains, pointing to Romans 1:26–28, 1 Timothy 1:8–11, 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.
“These member churches … require church employees to live according to the Bible’s teachings on matters of sexuality and gender,” it outlines.
The council also explains that many churches believe that the Bible forbids women from serving as pastors, pointing to 1 Timothy 2:12, which states that women are not to “teach or usurp authority over a man” in the church.
While the Austin City Code provides two exemptions in its nondiscrimination ordinance, it only states that it is lawful for educational institutions and corporations to “hire and employ individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the [entity’s] activities,” and does not mention churches and their hiring practices as it pertains to homosexuality and transgenderism.
Therefore, the council argues, the ordinance allows churches to require its leaders to be Christians, but prohibits the same churches from passing up women for pastoral roles, or those engaged in homosexual behavior and transgenderism.
It is requesting that the court declare that Austin churches have a right under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act to hire in accordance with biblical teaching and that it place an injunction against the enforcement of the ordinance until the code is amended to specifically protect churches.
Austin officials have vowed to fight the suit, and attorney Holt Lackey told local television station KXAN that if the legal challenge prevails, it would “undermine the ability of Austin or any other similar city to pass an ordinance saying in this city we don’t accept sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.”
“The City is proud of our anti-discrimination ordinance and the protections it provides,” a City spokesperson said in a statement. “The ordinance reflects our values and culture respecting the dignity and rights of every individual. We are prepared to vigorously defend the City against this challenge to the City’s civil rights protections.”
Ephesians 5:25-27 says that “Christ … loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
The late influential preacher Charles Spurgeon also once exhorted, “It will certainly be disastrous for the Church of God if her members should become impure. In these days, we must be doubly strict, lest any looseness of conduct should come in among us. Actual sin must be repressed with a strong hand, but even the appearance of evil must be avoided.”