AP NEWS

Christian group drops lawsuit over Austin’s LGBT protections

March 24, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A conservative Christian group has dropped its lawsuit attempting to overturn Austin’s anti-discrimination ordinance that extends employment protection to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The U.S. Pastor Council has dismissed its federal lawsuit against the city of Austin, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The Houston-based council filed its lawsuit in October, alleging that Austin’s ordinance is unconstitutional and invalid because it doesn’t include a religious exemption for 25 member churches in the city that refuse to hire LGBT people.

Austin’s ordinance allows faith-based schools and organizations to limit hiring to members of a particular religion. But the pastors’ lawsuit argued the exemptions didn’t go far enough.

“Neither of these two exemptions accommodates churches that refuse to hire women, practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy,” the lawsuit said.

The city argued that the lawsuit failed to list the 25 member churches or show how any of them experienced any harm from the employment protections.

“There is no allegation the ordinance has been enforced, or is about to be enforced, against any of the unnamed Austin churches, and no allegation that any of them have in fact been restricted in their hiring decisions,” the city wrote in its motion seeking to get the lawsuit dismissed last month.

City spokesman Andy Tate said Austin officials are proud of the ordinance’s anti-discrimination protections.

“Our ordinance reflects our values and culture, respecting the dignity and rights of every individual,” Tate said.

Dave Welch, founder and president of the U.S. Pastor Council, said the decision to drop the lawsuit Tuesday was based on legal advice.

“Our position has not changed,” Welch said. “We’re just going to revisit how we approach the suit, and we’re hoping there’s still a possibility at some point of refiling it.”

Austin’s ordinance is also the target of a bill in the Texas House of Representatives that seeks to prohibit cities from outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Zedler would allow a religious group to fire or refuse to hire people whose conduct or beliefs conflict with the organization’s faith.

No action has as yet been taken on the bill.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com