Pocatello ordinance influenced by national think tanks
American Religious Freedom Program among most involved
A lot of new information came out of Pocatello Friday regarding the nondiscrimination ordinance.
The latest controversy comes in the form of Washington, D.C. organizations that are endorsed by opponents of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights (like former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan) in Pocatello, influencing community members.
Chris Cole got the exclusive interview with the American Religious Freedom Program executive director. (For links about this organization, check the end of the story).
Even though this ordinance is political, it comes down to what people are feeling. In fact, the entire situation in Pocatello is muddy with feelings.
The regional public affairs director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Larry Fisher, acted on his own to bring a lawyer from the American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP).
"[Larry Fisher] called, he asked, I said, 'Sure, if we've got information, come in,'" said Mayor Brian Blad in an interview Thursday evening.
However, Fisher did not contact them as part of the LDS church, a fact misinterpreted by some local media outlets, like the Idaho State Journal.
Blad said Jacki Pick, a Constitutional Law expert who has advised the national Congress on matters of religious freedom in the law, said the ordinance was poorly written. The ARFP agreed with that statement in a Friday interview over the phone.
Pick's credibility was called into question by those she met with, after she repeatedly made claims that no ordinances like this have criminalized discriminatory behavior.
"We'd seen that there had been a set of nondiscrimination ordinances in Idaho,” said ARFP Executive Director Brian Welsh. “This one was very broad and written in a way that would criminalize a lot of conduct that is religious expression."
Mayor Blad said the ARFP is just one group that has had input on the ordinance. Input also came from the ACLU (American Civil Rights Union), Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship and 2Great4Hate.
He also maintains that Pick never advised the council to not have an ordinance.
The ordinance is also something the LDS church has supported.
However, the LDS church's involvement in overturning Proposition 8 in California, along with a longstanding bitterness between some LDS and non-LDS residents have left some non-LDS residents wary, hurt, even enraged.
However, the controversy there is where members of those groups like the ACLU and PVIF, while not meeting with the mayor and members of the City Council like Pick did, also did not request to have a meeting like that.
Furthermore, members of the Human Rights Committee for the city have been meeting with the ACLU on their own time, but bringing it back to the city.
"Did they meet with them? There's no question. Yes,” said Mayor Blad. “Did I ask them to stop meeting with them? Yes, but only when it comes to legal advice. They [said] the ACLU would give them legal advice to help them with this."
He also said many people are making mountains out of molehills with various issues behind the ordinance, like the city paying for lunch when the ARFP lawyer was here.
"It's a lunch,” said Blad. “But I can see their side. It was a lunch, it was a decision I made, and I’m okay with that decision."
He also said he meets with numerous businesses around the community and pays for lunch there as well, including the Idaho State Journal.
Blad said letting emotions and opinions run high is counterproductive to the goals of any community.
He said this ordinance has been tearing families, friends and our community apart in a lot of ways. And everyone is affected personally, including him, who has lost several LGBT friends.
"I would not know what to do if I didn't have them as my friends,” he said while holding back tears. “In fact, I lost a lot of my friends when I voted no. And it kills me. So people that think we're not committed to making this happen are crazy."
Blad also agrees that hindsight is 20-20.
"Had I known everything I know right now, and all the hatred that would be thrown around and the hypocritical things that have been thrown around on both sides of the line,” he said, “I definitely would have done things differently."
At the City Council's Study Session on Thursday, May 9, the Human Rights Committee advised the Council to postpone a vote on the ordinance until after the elections in November.
But with members of the Human Rights committee involved in Roger Chase’s campaign for mayor, many who are asking the mayor for answers may need to provide some of their own.
A vote on the new draft of the ordinance will be on June 6th. Click here to view the latest version of the nondiscrimination ordinance. The only change to the ordinance at this link was putting back the possibility of imprisonment.
For more information, click the following links:
American Religious Freedom Program, as a part of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
The LDS Church's website regarding what they call "same-sex attraction."
Chris Cole on Facebook and on Twitter.
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