De Pere hosts public meeting on transgender ordinance

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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) -- A group of churches and a Christian radio station have filed suit against the city of De Pere over a transgender ordinance set to take effect on March 1.

The lawsuit was field in Brown County Circuit Court. Plaintiffs are Hope Lutheran Church (De Pere); Crosspoint Church (De Pere); Destiny Church (De Pere); St. Mark Lutheran Church (De Pere); Christ the Rock Church (De Pere); and Lakeshore Communications, Inc. (Q90FM).

The lawsuit states part of the city's Non-Discrimination in Housing, Public Accommodation and Employment ordinance regarding gender identity does not exempt religious organizations and the city has not assured those religious organizations that they will not be "subjected to the ordinance" when it takes effect March 1.

"As a result, the ordinance is likely to be imposed on churches and other religious organizations in a manner that would mandate goverment orthodoxy in core religious functions, communication, and conduct," reads the suit.

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

The churches say enforcing the ordinance would go against their doctrines involving sex, marriage, gender identity and homosexuality.

On Nov. 21, 2017, De Pere's City Council passed the ordinance in a 5-4 vote. The ordinance says employers, businesses and landlords cannot discriminate against people based on gender identity.

On Tuesday night the city hosted a public information session featuring Stacie Christian, Ph.D. Christian is the director of Inclusive Excellence and Pride Center at UW-Green Bay.

Christian said, "It will definitely expand the opportunity for students to have housing in this area, employment. Individuals will be more interested in working here and coming here to shop, in fact. Right now at this point people often go to Appleton because it's already considered to be an inclusive community. Knowing about this ordinance and how people really are inclusive in De Pere will be very positive."

However, not everyone at this meeting was in favor of the ordinance.

Pastor Matt Baye represents one of the De Pere churches backing the lawsuit against the city. .

Baye is asking that religious organizations be exempt.

"We're specifically looking for the exemption that would allow us to have freedom specifically in how we hire and retain employees and also in terms of the ways that we promote our specific message in accordance with the Bible," said Baye, who serves as pastor at Hope Lutheran Church.

City council member Casey Nelson is among those who voted in favor of the ordinance but said he's not able to speak about the lawsuit.

Nelson said, "A lot of other states have done it already. Other municipalities in Wisconsin have done it, so we're just kind of catching up to the rest."

The city has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit from the day it was filed.

So far no court hearings have been set.