Ruling places religious beliefs secondary to homosexual rights

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--A Southern Baptist layman will appeal a federal ruling upholding the constitutionality of Louisville, Ky., and Jefferson County ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A March 21 ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson III has been hailed by homosexual activists as a focal point in the debate over whether individual religious beliefs "trump" laws protecting homosexual rights. City attorneys said they believe it is the first time that a federal court has upheld a gay rights law that was challenged on the basis of a First Amendment religious objection.

J. Barrett Hyman, a Louisville gynecologist and trustee for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville who challenged both Louisville ordinances, is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He said he is prepared to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, with each step to be a fight with such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Hyman contended that his religious beliefs are in such conflict with the ordinances that he could not comply with them -- including hiring homosexuals -- and that he thus risked prosecution because of his faith, which is protected by the First Amendment.

"It's a reflection of our society when a federal judge rules that homosexual behavior should not be discriminated against and gives these individuals special legal protection and disregards biblical principles of morality," said Hyman, who has the Ten Commandments and other Scripture hanging on his office walls. "I'm a Christian first and I've always been a Christian, pro-family, pro-life doctor, and to say that my faith does not influence my business is a lie."

Simpson, in his 34-page ruling, wrote that Hyman "has made no allegation that would suggest that his [medical] practice has as a purpose the exercise of his religion." He also described the ordinances as "rationally related to a legitimate government interest."

In Louisville and Jefferson County the ruling clears the way for local government to fine businesses or individuals from $10,000 to $50,000 for rejecting homosexual job applicants or denying them housing.

The ruling "is a huge victory for everybody who fought so hard for fairness and sends a message to the whole nation," Babs Elliott, senior city attorney who defended the Louisville ordinance, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Lots of municipalities" across the nation have passed or are considering similar measures and "this gives them some comfort level that they are constitutional," she said.

"This is a total victory for fairness," said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which represented the local group that lobbied for passage of the pro-homosexual ordinances. "[The March 21] decision says that everyone has to obey civil rights laws."

Hyman, who is represented by the conservative American Center for Law and Justice led by Jay Sekulow, said he brings his Christian faith to bear on every facet of his medical practice.

"I encourage moral behavior with my patients and employees," he said. "Hiring a homosexual would be in opposition to my whole Christian being and what I intend to promote in my practice."

Louisville aldermen passed an ordinance in January 1999 making it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in employment -- including hiring, promotion and pay. Nine months later Jefferson Fiscal Court passed a broader ordinance, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation not only in employment, but also in public accommodations -- such as by service providers -- and in housing, including renting apartments and selling property.

Both laws were adopted after heated campaigns between pro-family and pro-homosexual groups that featured rallies, petition drives and massive efforts to call elected officials.

Hyman filed two suits challenging the ordinances, with the cases subsequently consolidated.

Like similar ordinances nationwide, the ones in Louisville and Jefferson County include exemptions for religious organizations, such as churches and seminaries that do not receive government funding. The March 21 decision has no effect on such exemptions.

Hyman said he does not hate homosexuals and only wants to help them leave their destructive lifestyle.

"If you truly love a person, you tell them the truth about sin and their need for Jesus and how Jesus can change their heart," he said. "Homosexuals are not born homosexuals. They are making an egregious, rebellious choice against God. Not only does homosexuality bring physical and spiritual disease and death, but also it is contagious to others exposed to it. Many of these people are lost and doomed. We must keep fighting against homosexuality so they are not left behind."

For earlier stories about Hyman's stance:

Clinton administration squares off against Southern Baptist physician

Southern trustees revise tenure, speak out against homosexuality

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