It was standing-room-only at Daviess County Fiscal Court Thursday night as opposition to the local non-discrimination ordinance stated their claim in solidarity and numbers, even if only one person was allowed to speak on their behalf.
Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said he was informed that the largely religious group had shown up to Thursday’s meeting to protest the voting of the ordinance; however, there was no fairness ordinance vote scheduled for Thursday’s meeting.
Nonetheless, Mattingly allowed one member of the self-described coalition to speak about the group’s stance on the ordinance, which, as Mattingly mentioned, hadn’t even been proposed as of yet.
“I don’t know where that [rumor of a vote] started, it’s not true. There’s not even an ordinance that has been proposed,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly allowed Southside Fellowship Church Reverend John Fowler to speak out of fairness, he said, as he’d allowed non-discrimination proponent Chad Benefield to speak during past meetings. Fowler said there were four aspects his group had been focusing on in their stance against the potential ordinance: that legislation for the ordinance was unnecessary, that liberty supersedes fairness, that the ordinance would create a moral and religious coercion and that the ordinance would lead to a threat of “frivolous and burdensome lawsuits.”
Fowler called the non-discrimination ordinance a “potentially harmful piece of legislation” and said his coalition requested that this legislation not even be considered by County commissioners.
Fowler also said his coalition had had several healthy conversations with the group in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance. Though they might not agree on many things, Fowler said the conversations had been civil. Nonetheless, Fowler said the ordinance created much concern for Christians, religious leaders and business owners across Daviess County.
“Our desire is not to unnecessarily offend nor instruct others how to behave in their private lives,” he said. “In an effort to follow Christ, we aim to love thy neighbors, even those with whom we deeply disagree.”
Fowler questioned the ordinance’s necessity, asking for specific instances where people in the community had been fired or rejected from obtaining housing “based solely on their sexuality,” even though Benefield presented County commissioners with a list of documented examples two weeks prior.
“As a general rule, laws are enacted to prevent loss of our fundamental rights,” he said. “The first amendment right to freedom of religion should be upheld at all costs, unless such freedom results in the loss of life or liberty to another. This fundamental right must never be sacrificed on the chance of unfairness or [hurting others’ feelings]. We have a right to it, derived from our maker.”
Fiscal Court said they had received numerous emails, letters and phone calls from those in opposition to the ordinance. County Commissioner George Wathen said he’d responded to 167 different contacts who’d reached out to him. Mattingly said most of the communication had been respectful, but that there were a few he’d had to get firm with.
“Some of them get a little over-the-top. One person said, ‘Four men are going to decide for the entire community?’” Mattingly said. “Well, that’s what you elected us for. That’s what I spent a lot of time in the military fighting for.”
Fowler said it was wrong to force religious people, businesses and institutions to be complicit with an ordinance if it involved circumstances or people that the person found morally objectionable.
“If they’re compelled by law to engage in services which cause an endorsement of morally objective behavior, their religious liberty has been compromised,” Fowler said.
When Mattingly asked those in the audience who opposed the fairness ordinance to stand, nearly the entire room stood together in unison.
“Message received,” he said.
Mattingly and County Commissioner Charlie Castlen offered to stay after the meeting to speak with anyone in the crowd about their concerns regarding the non-discrimination ordinance if they so wished.