Changes to San Antonio's anti-discrimination ordinance draws fire

Opponents claim changes violate free speech, freedom of religion

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SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio city council members will discuss in August several changes to the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

The changes include the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories.

Another change is a rule that would require businesses that contract with the city to comply with the expanded Non-Discrimination Policy.

Opponents of the changes said the new language violates freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

"If there's a business owner who has certain values, let's say Christian values…if their values dictate that they do not accept an unnatural lifestyle, like a person with a same-sex attraction, they would be prohibited form saying 'no' to them," said Patrick Von Dohlen with the San Antonio Family Association.

There are religious exemptions, but Von Dohlen said they are too narrow.

Councilman Diego Bernal said the city is not trying to violate the religious freedom of any group.

"The name of the game here is making sure that the people in this city, especially those that we care about, are not discriminated against," Bernal said. "All this other stuff, these are red herrings, these are not real issues. The city has no interest in interfering with the first amendment rights or the religious liberties of churches, synagogues, mosques. We haven't and we won't."

Opponents are also upset with a portion of the ordinance that prohibits any person from being appointed to a position if the city council finds that person has engaged in discrimination and or demonstrated a bias.

Von Dohlen believes the language is such that someone would be like punished for stating their views on homosexuality during a public meeting because another person may see those views as discriminatory.

"If someone has gone down to city hall, and spoken for their own values that it takes one natural man and one natural woman to have a natural marriage, and this ordinance is passed, then they would be precluded from ever being able to serve on city government," said Dohlen. "So it is a freedom of expression restriction."

But Bernal said that portion of the ordinance is already the city’s policy.

"I'm a constitutional lawyer, I may not agree with things you say, but I'll defend your right to say it," Bernal said. "We can balance that with our non-discrimination policy. We have before and will continue to do that."

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