Conservative groups sue Austin questioning if city's equal rights ordinance is truly equal
The City of Austin is facing a lawsuit from conservative group Texas Values, saying Austin's anti-discrimination ordinance violates their religious beliefs. The heart of the lawsuit is spelled out at the bottom of page 5 of the 8-page lawsuit: "Texas Values will not hire and refuses to retain" lesbian, gay or transgender people because of beliefs the organization says it represents, and Austin's anti-discrimination ordinance, passed in 2004, covers sexual orientation and gender identity.
The lawsuit does not say that Texas Values faced any action for refusing to hire or retain someone in a protected class under the ordinance, so one thing the district court will have to decide, said Austin attorney Perry Q. Minton, is whether Texas Values has any standing. "Courts, and particularly the Supreme Court hear cases and controversies," he said, "They do not give advisory opinions on someone who has not been hurt or burdened."
Texas Values declined an on-camera interview, but sent us this statement: "The City of Austin's so-called anti-discrimination laws violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by punishing individuals, private businesses and religious nonprofits, including churches, for their religious beliefs on sexuality and marriage."
"It's an all-out attack on the civil rights laws," declared Chuck Smith, executive officer of Equality Texas. Smith says this lawsuit and two others filed in Austin and Fort Worth this week are just the latest salvo after the bathroom bill failed in the last legislative session. "What they are attempting to do is to say that municipalities and cities such as Austin should not have the ability to protect their residents from discrimination," Smith said,
A City of Austin spokesperson declined an on-camera interview, but told CBS Austin, "The ordinance reflects our values and culture, respecting the dignity and rights of every individual. We are prepared to vigorously defend the city against this challenge to the city's civil rights protections."
But Minton says some things have changed since the last legislative session, namely the Supreme Court -- and that's why the lawsuit was filed. "I think what they're trying to do eventually is to get this up to the Supreme Court, now that they've got somebody up there that they think is going to be amenable to reversing some of the civil rights," he said.
A total of three lawsuits were filed by the same attorney in the day since October 6, on behalf of Texas Values and the US Pastors Council -- one in district court in Austin, a second in federal court in Austin and a third in federal court in Fort Worth. They challenge not only Austin's anti-discrimination ordinance, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well.