For the Austin City Council, “tolerance” means allowing local churches to practice their own beliefs — but only if they agree with City Hall.
At issue is the city’s anti-discrimination law, which would force local churches to accept sexual behavior that violates their beliefs. The city code mandates private employers consider job applicants on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning a church would be breaking the law if they refused to hire a pastor or church employee who practices a homosexual or transgender lifestyle.
The law is now being challenged in court.
The U.S. Pastor Council, a Houston-based nonprofit coalition of roughly 1,000 churches, recently filed a lawsuit against the city arguing the policy violates the U.S. & Texas Constitutions as well as the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Article I, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution reads, “No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion.”
The Pastor Council, which has more than two dozen member churches in Austin, says in their lawsuit that since there is no provision in the law to protect a church’s hiring freedom, “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.”
Austin is only the latest location of this debate. In 2015 the city of Houston tried to pass a similar ordinance, but voters rejected the mandate. Other cities such as Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso have already passed equivalent discrimination laws that threaten churches’ liberty.
The Pastor Council’s lawsuit states they seek to prevent enforcement of the law “until the city enacts a religious exemption that accords with constitutional and state-law requirements.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he will fight to defend the law that would force churches to violate their beliefs.
“Nondiscrimination is a core value in Austin,” he said. “This is a city where we want everyone to have equal opportunity and respect and to feel safe.”
“Everyone” appears to exclude churches that disagree with Austin City Hall’s views on sexual behavior.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division and awaits further action.