Kentucky physician again brings religious-liberty claim against a civil rights law

Thursday, November 18, 1999

Supporters of c...
Supporters of county fairness ordinance applaud as Jefferson County Fiscal Court in Kentucky passed an ordinance on Oct. 12 to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

A Kentucky physician who says gays offend God has filed another federal lawsuit challenging a second local law that bars housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In mid-September, J. Barrett Hyman, a Louisville obstetrician and gynecologist who employs six people, challenged a city ordinance barring employers from discriminating against workers or potential hires based on sexual orientation. Hyman asked the federal court to strike the ordinance because he said it unconstitutionally burdened his religious practices. On Nov. 2, William C. Stone, the city's law director, filed an answer seeking the dismissal of Hyman's suit and court costs for defending the ordinance. In his answer Stone says Hyman failed to offer evidence that he had been harmed by the Louisville ordinance.

On Nov. 16, Hyman, again represented by the socially conservative American Center for Law and Justice, brought a separate legal action against a recently amended Jefferson County ordinance that provides legal protections to gays against discrimination in the workplace and housing. As in his action against the Louisville law, Hyman wants the Jefferson County ordinance invalidated on constitutional grounds. Louisville is in Jefferson County.

“As a Christian, plaintiff sincerely believes that acts of homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and other departures from monogamous heterosexual relations are sinful and grievously offensive to God,” the ACLJ argues in its complaint. “He believes further that if he were to assist or facilitate another person's sinful behavior, he would seriously violate his spiritual commitment to and relationship with God.”

Hyman, furthermore, believes gays “demonstrate a serious lack of moral character which renders them unfit for employment in his medical practice.” Hyman cites passages from Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Romans as evidence that gays and lesbians are an affront to Christian precepts.

If the Jefferson County Human Relations Committee were to find Hyman in violation of the anti-discrimination ordinance, it could fine him up to $10,000 for a first-time offense. Third-time violations could carry a penalty of up to $50,000.

Frank Manion, a senior ACLJ attorney, said that his group had warned Jefferson County officials in October that a lawsuit would be filed if the ordinance was amended to extend legal protections to gays.

“This is a case of government attempting to legislate its own view of morality at the expense of the fundamental rights of its citizens,” Manion said. “These ordinances trample on an employer's constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. It forces an employer to choose between following the dictates of his conscience and going out of business.”

Dan Farrell, co-coordinator for the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, which pushed for the passage of the anti-discrimination laws, said that the ACLJ's arguments against the Louisville and Jefferson County laws were too simplistic.

“I don't think Hyman's religious liberties have been violated,” Farrell said. “Religious liberty is precious, but its limited when a person starts citing religious beliefs to oppress others. Hyman can believe that someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual is a sinner and he can believe that they are going to hell — the ordinances do not stop him from holding those beliefs. The law simply says that if you are going to hold yourself out as doing business with the public that you must abide by this anti-discrimination law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has also taken notice of the challenge, on religious liberty grounds, to the Louisville and Jefferson County anti-discrimination ordinances.

Leslie Cooper, staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said that Hyman's argument was similar to ones used against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But she said this was the first time she had heard of such an argument being used to challenge anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual orientation.

“There is nothing about the free-exercise clause that allows someone to impose their religious beliefs on others in civil society,' Cooper said. 'The argument that the anti-discrimination laws are conflicting with his individual religious beliefs has been used in the past to challenge a slew of laws protecting all sorts of groups. People have often used religion as a smokescreen for discrimination against others.'