Saturday, May 18, 2013

Liberal Idaho Media Outlets Accusing LDS Regional Public Affairs Director Larry Fisher Of Trying To Quash Pocatello's "Add The Words" Gay Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Several liberal Idaho media outlets, most notably the Idaho State Journal and the Boise Weekly, are accusing LDS Regional Public Affairs Director Larry Fisher of working behind the scenes with Pocatello city leaders to quash a proposed gay nondiscrimination ordinance that's a part of a statewide campaign by gay activists known as "Add The Words". Their objective is to add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act; at least four other Idaho municipalities, Boise, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Ketchum, have adopted such a measure. The controversy revolves around the fact that Fisher put city leaders in touch with a pro-family group, American Religious Freedom Program (AFRP), so they could share their expertise in dealing with the construction of nondiscrimination guidelines.

The story began when Larry Fisher offered to bring an attorney from the AFRP to town to provide their expert opinion on nondiscrimination ordinances. City leaders accepted, and on April 4th, 2013, Jacki Pick arrived to represent the AFRP. Councilmen Jim Johnston and Steve Brown met with Pick from 9 to 10 a.m. on April 4th, Councilman Roger Bray met with her at 10 a.m. Eva Johnson-Nye and Craig Cooper had an 11 a.m. meeting, and meeting from 12:20 to 1:30 p.m. were Pick, Mayor Brian Blad, Brown, Bray, and city attorneys, Kirk Bybee and Dean Tranmer. City records indicate no notes were taken because a quorum of the council was not present at any of the sessions. There was also an afternoon session with Pick which lasted from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. and included Fisher, Grace Lutheran pastor Jonathan Dinger and minister of the New Blazing Grace Church, Jacqueline Thomas. This input was provided along with input from other leading groups such as the ACLU, Too Great to Hate, and Interfaith Fellowship to ensure a proper balance from having the concerns of all constituencies represented. The Boise Weekly reports that another pro-family group, the Heritage Foundation, was also consulted.

Subsequently, a vote on the anti-discrimination ordinance was delayed until after the April 4th hearing and the hearing on proposed changes to the ordinance continued until April 18th. After the second hearing, a split council voted 3-3 with Mayor Blad casting the deciding No vote, essentially killing the ordinance as written. A new hearing on a revised ordinance, which was discussed on May 9th by the city council at a working session, is set for June 6th. Because Mayor Blad and the three council members who voted against the ordinance are all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, questions arose as to whether it was an organized LDS effort similar to the campaign against California Proposition 8. In response to this concern, Pocatello Council Member Craig Cooper said he voted against the measure not because he's LDS, but because he thought it was too punitive -— the proposed ordinance would have made discrimination a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail. He does not believe strict liability should be imposed; there should be proof of deliberate intent before punishment, since not everyone is going to know the law.

Read the revised eight-page ordinance HERE. The revised ordinance specifies that discriminatory acts must be willfully committed, exempts mom-and-pop landlords and employers, drops the incarceration provision, and allows prosecutors to reduce it from a misdemeanor to an infraction carrying a $100 fine if the violator makes voluntary corrections. In addition, anyone knowingly filing false discrimination charges will be charged with the crime of False Reporting.

But the Boise Weekly is trying to portray all this as an act of Mormon orchestration and collusion, as evidenced by the provocative headline "Journal: Mormon Church Arranged Lobbyist to Push Against LGBT Protections in Pocatello", which implies that Larry Fisher got secret "marching orders" from Salt Lake City. This could be nothing more than a lame attempt by a typical weekly hippie rag to goose circulation. However, the Idaho State Journal was at least fair-minded enough to post responses to specific questions by Fisher back on May 16th. Here are the three most definitive questions:

Question: Because you are the regional Public Affairs Director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did you worry this would be seen as a move by “the church” to influence city politics? Is it an attempt by the LDS Church to wield influence or is this anti-discrimination ordinance something you have a personal stake in?

Fisher: We are grateful that Councilman Bray and others sought comment from all interested groups. City officials are elected to represent all citizens in the community, including those who are LDS. The Church has publicly supported nondiscrimination ordinances in Salt Lake but has also been public about the necessity of balance as well.

Question: As an influential member of the Pocatello community, what are your thoughts on protections for the LGBT community?

Fisher: As I’ve said, we’ve supported nondiscrimination ordinances before and understand the need for balance and representation from all views. Our desire has been to help the city create a nondiscrimination ordinance that satisfies those goals.

Question: There is no secret that Mayor Blad and the councilmen who voted against passage of the ordinance on April 18 are all members of the LDS Church. How do you think non-LDS members of the community will view your efforts to bring in an outside “expert?” How should they view it?

Fisher: Our desire is to provide insight and expertise that helps all community leaders develop an ordinance that unites our community. That is possible only when all views have been heard and discussed.

There's no evidence of any collusion with LDS Church headquarters. The LDS Statement on Political Neutrality states that the Church does not endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms, and does not attempt to direct or dictate to any government leaders. The LDS Church does expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters. It also reserves the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church. These are rights accorded to all American citizens regardless of religion. Thus it is unfair to hold the LDS Church to a harsher standard than other organizations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack Mormon is no jack Mormon. Like Prop 8 in California, the Mormon church sadly has tried to squash gay rights in Idaho. And despite the culture of obedience in Southeast Idaho, even obedience to very wrong actions of church officials that harm all Idahoans, Idaho citizens are increasingly rejecting this and news outlets are no afraid to tell the real story you would like to repress.