WICHITA, Kan. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics in Kansas are scared of what an antidiscrimination measure might mean for Christian organizations.
Bishop Carl Kemme of the Wichita diocese sounded the alarm in an email message Monday, stating:
The Mayor of Wichita and certain members of the City Council are pressing forward with what they are calling a "non-discrimination ordinance," or NDO. That sounds harmless enough, but it is not.
Simply put, if passed and enforced, this NDO will be used to specifically target people of faith like you and me. In fact, this NDO may well force Catholics and others to either violate our deeply held religious beliefs or face civil penalties, including fines of up to $2,000. There is even a provision calling for "educational requirements" for convicted violators.
Sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances like this NDO are being systematically introduced and passed throughout the country and in Kansas. They carve out special protections to people based on their self-defined "sexual orientation."
Under conditions of the proposed ordinance, Catholic organizations in Wichita could be compelled to take action contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs. Likewise, individual Catholic business owners could face fines unless they cooperate in activity that violates their deeply held religious beliefs. We've seen this happen with bakers, florists and others around the country.
In fact, under the language of the proposed NDO, the Catholic Church in Wichita would have less rights in employment than it does under federal law.
In summary, the proposed Wichita NDO being considered by the City Council this coming Tuesday is not only unnecessary, it is a legal bludgeon being used to target Catholics and other people of faith. The proposed ordinance appears to have the votes to pass, but there is still time for your voice to be heard.
Bishop Kemme's message was sent through Janet Easton, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Wichita diocese.
At a city council meeting July 6, some Christians vociferously objected to this NDO during the time slated for public comments.
In last week's meeting, council members voted 4–3 to approve the first reading of the measure. If they likewise approve the second reading Tuesday, it becomes law.
Among those speaking up last week was Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
Supporters of the ordinance believe it sufficently protects religious liberty. But Weber disputed this claim, saying, "Jack the cake baker and the florist, all of these people are not covered with any exemptions whatsoever."
Jack Phillips, a cake baker in Colorado, faced years of legal battle after he refused to bake a cake for a gay couple's so-called wedding ceremony. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Phillips in 2018. But he's facing a new battle after refusing in 2019 to make a cake celebrating a transgender person.
In a similar vein, Jeff Bennett from the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas commented to local news, "In many churches, half of the staff are not pastors, therefore not exempt. So you have executive directors, you have administrators, you have secretarial staff, you have janitorial staff, all of these other folks that are at risk with this ordinance."
Pro-LGBT groups are speaking out in favor of the NDO. For instance, Carry Wilks, chair of pro-LGBT lobbying group Equality Kansas, opined last week, "Hate is not a Kansas value, and we want to ensure that everyone Wichitan feels valued and respected."
In a homily June 29, Bp. Kemme stressed the importance of religious freedom.
Speaking broadly of Christians' religious liberty, the bishop noted, "The forces of evil in the world today are, I think, increasing in order to reduce the effects of the gospel we profess, and perhaps even to stamp it out completely."