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Administration To Support Gay Laws

August 17, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For the first time ever, the Clinton administration is in court supporting a local government’s effort to protect gays from employment discrimination.

Justice Department lawyers are urging a federal trial judge in Louisville, Ky., to reject a challenge to that city’s anti-bias ordinance.

The government’s friend-of-the-court brief was filed Tuesday. Justice Department spokeswoman Kara Peterman confirmed that the administration had not previously filed a pro-gay-rights brief in support of a local anti-discrimination ordinance.

Louisville enacted its ordinance last year, and Dr. J. Barrett Hyman, a Louisville physician, quickly sued to have it overturned.

A Southern Baptist, Hyman argues that his religious beliefs prevent him from hiring gays and therefore the ordinance violates his constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

Hyman’s lawyer, Francis Manion, said the ordinance ``would require him to in effect support or condone that lifestyle. He believes that requires him to violate his religious beliefs.″

Manion is with the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative advocacy group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

If Hyman wins, the Justice Department brief said, ``other employers could claim that being required to employ individuals of a particular race, sex, national origin or religion violates their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion or free association.″

Others could claim that ``engaging in discriminatory advertising for employment is protected by the First Amendment,″ the brief contended.

The government brief also says Hyman lacks the legal standing to sue because he has not actually fired or refused to hire anyone on the basis of sexual orientation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing gay-rights groups in the case, applauded the government’s action.

``All federal civil rights laws would be in danger″ if the law cannot be enforced, said ACLU attorney Leslie Cooper. ``There can be a religious basis for all sorts of discrimination.″

Manion disagreed, adding that there is a national consensus that discrimination based on race or gender is wrong. ``There’s no such consensus on this issue,″ he said.

He criticized the Justice Department’s decision to get involved. ``I’m kind of offended quite frankly,″ Manion said. ``Its primary concern ought to be protecting the religious rights of people in this country.″

Attorney Nathan Lewin, a First Amendment expert who has tried numerous cases dealing with the free exercise of religion, said he did not think Hyman would prevail.

Lewin said that an individual making that type of claim ``would have an awfully difficult burden to meet.″

A religious institution could make a case for why it could not hire gays for certain positions, Lewin said. But other employers would have a hard time doing that, he said.

Oral arguments in the case are expected to take place sometime after Sept. 14.


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