In November 2017, De Pere City Council adopted a measure to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public housing.
This ordinance protects transgender and non-binary people. It came into effect in March.
The legislation provides for exemptions for religious groups. For example, it grants a housing discrimination exemption to limit “the sale, rental or occupancy of dwellings which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose to persons of the same religion, or from giving preference to such persons.”
Despite this, five churches from De Pere (Hope Lutheran, Crosspoint, Destiny, St. Mark Lutheran and Christ the Rock) and Lakeshore Communications, owner of Christian radio station Q90FM, sued the city in February.
Judge William Atkinson has taken a stand for these religious organizations and therefore against the city’s policy.
He believes that the ordinance violates their freedom and says they shouldn‘t be seen as public facilities.
According to the Green-Bay Press Gazette, the city argued the claims were too “hypothetical and remote.”
Not only the measure wasn’t enforced yet when churches filed the lawsuit, but city attorneys noted that churches sometimes engaged in community activities that fall outside of regular worship, and thus could be considered as public facility at times.
As for the radio station, it cannot be affected by the ordinance because owned by a private company.
De Pere’s non-discrimination ban is imperiled. It remains to be seen whether the city will appeal Judge Atkinson’s decision.