Plano's Equal Rights Ordinance faces petition, criticism

Plano church leaders are asking residents to sign a petition against the city's expanded Equal Rights Ordinance, saying it violates religious freedoms.



Liberty Institute, an organization that advocates for religious liberties across the country, hosted a press conference Jan. 7 with church and state leaders to speak against the ordinance. Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere also held a press conference later in the day to respond to the criticism.



The Plano City Council expanded the ordinance Dec. 8 to include that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. The ordinance already makes it unlawful to discriminate based on categories such as race, sex and religion for housing, public accommodations, employment or city contracting.



Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institutes general counsel, said the law is too broad and vague.



"[The ordinance] doesn't give citizens guidance as to what specific conduct may or may not be penalized," Mateer said. "That 'penalized' is a criminal offense. Practically anything one says about gender or sexuality is possibly criminal under this ordinance."



LaRosiliere said Plano's ordinance is legal and constitutional and that more than 200 other cities have similar ordinances.



"Simply stated, the citizens need to get the facts to understand that nothing will change in the city of Plano other than the fact that we clearly will reflect the values that will respect every citizen," LaRosiliere said.



Religious and nonprofit organizations are exempted from the ordinance, but Mateer said Christian business owners would be penalized for expressing their beliefs.



"If you own a wedding business, and today–in light of the ordinance–you refuse a same-sex couple to participate against your religious beliefs in their same-sex in Texas commitment ceremony, then you would be violating the ordinance," he said.



A petition with at least 3,800 notarized signatures needs to be presented to the city secretary by Jan. 20 for the council to either repeal the ordinance or to put it on the May ballot for a public vote, Plano spokesperson Steve Stoler said.



Dave Welch, Texas Pastor Council executive director, said the signature gathering process is organic and he's unsure how many signatures have been collected so far.



Welch said if enough signatures aren't gathered or if the ordinance isn't repealed, a lawsuit will be filed against the city.



State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, also said he and the other state legislators who represent Plano will file joint legislation that would ify the city's ordinance.



"Whether it's this petition, whether it's through the courts or whether it's through the legislative process the citizens of Texas will be allowed to express their religious beliefs in the workplace," he said.



LaRosiliere said the council will take any necessary action required if a petition is presented.



"When is the right time to do the right thing? That time is now," he said. "We did what we were supposed to do in the time we were supposed to do it. We did it in the manner that we were supposed to do it. We won't let the vocal minority speak for the majority."



Plano Citizens United, an organization of residents against the ordinance, has set up the website www.planoequalrights.com with information on the group's stance and a link to the petition.



The city website has a page dedicated to the ordinance, www.plano.gov/ero, and features frequently asked questions and a complaint form.



Click here to read the ordinance.