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The city council of Lincoln, Nebraska, passed “draconian” legislation last week that threatens to fine residents thousands of dollars for counseling teens “in biblical terms,” critics say.
The legislation, known as the “Fairness Ordinance,” revises a section of Lincoln’s Equal Opportunity Code with the intent to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and military status. Opponents of the law say the bill goes much further than simply banning discrimination, however, and the penalties for violating it are as high as $50,000.
“The adjudicating tribunal is the mayor-appointed human rights commission who can assess damages and attorney’s fees against the offending person. In addition, they can impose fines ranging from: $10,000 for first offenses; $25,000 for each repeated offense within 5 years; and $50,000 for each repeated offense within a 7 year period,” Nebraska Family Alliance (NFA) Policy Director Nate Grasz told The Daily Wire in an email. “Those are the definition of ‘draconian’ and would quickly bankrupt any person or business.”
NFA filed a petition on Tuesday to stop the ordinance, which has yet to be signed by the mayor, from taking effect. The NFA has until 15 days after submitting the petition to collect 4,137 signatures to stop the bill.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (R) issued a statement condemning the bill on Monday: “This ordinance is anything but fair — it should be called the ‘unfairness ordinance.’ It puts girls at risk by allowing men into girls’ bathrooms. It applies to private schools and not to public schools. It prevents parents from helping their kids who are experiencing gender dysphoria. And it threatens to bankrupt families who instill traditional values on their children — anyone who disagrees could get fined up to $50,000. I urge the people of Lincoln to sign the petition to let the people vote on these unfair policies!”
Grasz says the Fairness Ordinance is in part a “bathroom bill” that allows men to enter women’s restrooms if the man identifies as female. The ordinance also has far-reaching implications on speech and religious grounds.
“Purporting to punish discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation, the ordinance redefines sex to mean ‘female, male, neither or both’ and includes ‘sexual orientation’ … and ‘gender identity or expression’ … as protected categories in public accommodation, housing and employment,” Grasz told The Daily Wire in an email.
“‘Public accommodation’ is incredibly broad and encompasses ‘all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages, and accommodations for the peace, comfort, health, welfare, and safety of the general public,’” he continued. “That’s pretty much everywhere and anything.”
City code includes exemptions for “any place of public accommodation owned by a religious corporation which gives preference in the use of such place to members of the same faith,” but the exemption is limited. Grasz said that ordinance can still apply to the staff of such religious organizations as individuals.
The ordinance overhauls city code banning “sexual harassment.” The new legislation would expand bans on sexual harassment to include places of “public accommodation.” It also expands the definition of sexual harassment to include “verbal conduct” that “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance or creat[es] an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment in employment, housing or public accommodation.”
“If I don’t use a person’s preferred pronouns or if I dare to talk publicly about human sexuality in a way that might have the ‘effect’ of intimidating or offending them – or interfering with their work performance – I might be liable for a discriminatory act,” Grasz said.
“It also broadens the ‘conversion therapy’ ban passed last year to include punishment for anyone trained in counseling (including pastors) who would counsel a minor away from transgenderism or homosexuality,” he added. “So if a pastor had counseling as a part of their professional training, they are liable if they talk in biblical terms to a minor who is struggling with gender identity.”
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