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Houston Groups Sue for License to Discriminate Against LGBTQ People

U.S. Pastor Council, Hotze Health and Wellness challenge Austin ordinance, EEOC regulations.

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Two Houston-based organizations have filed federal lawsuits against the city of Austin and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, seeking a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The lawsuits were filed Saturday, Oct. 6 by the U.S. Pastor Council and the Hotze Health and Wellness Center, a business owned by anti-LGBTQ activist Steve Hotze.

In one lawsuit, the Pastor Council alleges that the city of Austin’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which has been in place for decades, is unconstitutional because it doesn’t include an exemption for churches that don’t want to hire LGBTQ people. Austin’s nondiscrimination ordinance allows faith-based schools and organizations to limit hiring to members of a a particular religion, but the Pastor Council claims that isn’t good enough.

From the Austin Statesman:

“Neither of these two exemptions accommodates churches that refuse to hire women, practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy,” the lawsuit said. “There are no exceptions to the ban on sex discrimination, and there are no exceptions to the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” …

Dan Quinn, spokesman of the Texas Freedom Network, which has opposed previous efforts by the pastor council to limit gay rights, said the lawsuit is an unnecessary and mean-spirited attempt to obtain a court-granted license to discriminate.

“I know of no instance in which a church or religious association has been forced to hire a gay person in violation of their religious beliefs,” Quinn said, adding that church hiring practices are already protected by the Constitution.

“This lawsuit isn’t about protecting religious freedom. This is about sweeping away anti-discrimination protections that have been on the books for decades,” he said.

Meanwhile, both the Pastor Council and Hotze Health and Wellness are suing the EEOC challenging the commission’s interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC has taken the position that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. From Law 360:

Because the Bible condemns same-sex relationships and gender identity that does not correspond with the sex the person had at birth, the laws illegally force religious employers to violate their beliefs, the council said.

“The EEOC refuses to acknowledge that [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] and the First Amendment limit its ability to enforce Title VII against employers who object to homosexual and transgender behavior on religious grounds,” the group argues in its suit against the EEOC. “And the EEOC readily brings lawsuits against Christian businesses that oppose these behaviors without regard to their rights under the RFRA and the First Amendment.”

Hotze Health and Wellness Center, a Christian-owned, Houston-area health center is also on the EEOC suit and proposes to represent a nationwide class of religious-affiliated businesses, and the council proposes to represent a nationwide class of churches. The health center is not on the Austin suit.

In addition to being a business owner, Steve Hotze is the leader of Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is considered an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both Hotze and the U.S. Pastor Council, also known as the Texas Pastor Council and the Houston Area Pastor Council, were heavily involved in the successful effort to repeal Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015.

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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