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Barronelle Stutzman garnered national attention for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding based on her personal beliefs.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 3, 201612:00 PM EST

Human Rights Ordinance opponents bring in big names to help fight expansion

by: David Chapman

Round 2 on expanding Jacksonville’s anti-discrimination laws starts Thursday and the opposition is bringing in some heavy-hitters.

A contingent of religious leaders opposing expansion of the human rights ordinance has planned a “strategic briefing” lunch Thursday titled “The Threat of the HRO and its Impact on the Church.”

It’s one being led by former City Council President Ginger Soud and at least a dozen pastors from the area, including the Rev. Mac Brunson of First Baptist Church, where the event will be hosted.

They’re bringing in some well-known guests for the effort.

Barronelle Stutzman is the Washington-state florist who garnered national attention for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding based on her personal beliefs. Lawsuits in the case are pending.

She said Tuesday evening she’ll be in town to talk about her experience, including how she feels it infringed upon her rights.

David Welch is a pastor from the Houston area and president of the U.S. Pastor Council that’s aided anti-LGBT legislative efforts around the country. That includes Houston, the last battleground city that voted against expanding LGBT protections in November.

“Our role from the beginning was basically to raise some critical questions, the purpose and the content of these ordinances,” he said Tuesday. “It’s to challenge the legitimacy and impact on the rest of the community. … It’s bad public policy.”

Welch said the Jacksonville ordinance, like Houston’s and others he’s seen, “has the fingerprints of the Human Rights Campaign all over it.”

The campaign, a national civil rights organization that pursues LGBT rights, has been involved in the Jacksonville efforts.

Welch said if that organization can bring resources from the national level to Jacksonville, “it’s certainly legitimate” for area pastors and faith leaders to reach out to others across the U.S.

Both Stutzman and Welch, along with Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kellie Fiedorek will be in town on a pro bono basis, they said.

The luncheon is a private event and those who attend will be required to sign a pledge that they oppose expanding Jacksonville’s law before they’re allowed to enter, “due to the confidential nature of the meeting,” according to an email.

However, the message won’t be confidential for long.

The luncheon ends at 2 p.m. and the council meeting starts at 3 p.m.

Soud said in between, there will be a news conference in Hemming Park including the guests. She declined to say what the message would be.

From there, the group will head into council chambers for the first of the three debates.

Advocates for expanding the law to include protections for LGBT communities have been vocal for some time. More than 100 religious leaders stepped up in support of expanding the law last month.

Supporters flooded council chambers the past month imploring council members to make the change, telling personal stories and attempting to dispel the negative impact the bill may have.

They were vocal during Mayor Lenny Curry’s community conversations on the issue in the last few months of 2015.

They were there in 2012, too, when the last attempt was defeated — and they’ll be there again starting Thursday when two bills on the topic are discussed.

One keeps the decision of an all-inclusive expansion with lawmakers. The other puts it on the ballot for voters.

The only major change since the format was announced in January has been Curry’s public stance on the issue.

Last week, he sent memos to city employees saying he didn’t think new legislation was prudent, but issued a directive to change city employment policies to comply with federal and state laws.

The policy would adopt that of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which protects the LGBT community on the basis of sex discrimination.

Attorney Jimmy Midyette, a leading local advocate on expanding the local ordinance, said he thought the move was “an important first step” for Curry and an evolutionary one from where the mayor stood during the campaign trail last year.

Curry didn’t take a stance during the campaign and would only say he would lead on the issue.

Like proponents have the past two council meetings and before, Midyette said he expects expansion advocates to attend Thursday’s meeting en masse to again make their case.

And with Curry’s directive, there’s a new argument for offering protections to everyone — not just city workers, he said.

The JAX Chamber has been a proponent for expanding the local laws and issued a news release days before Curry’s announcement stating just that.

The chamber board issued another statement after Curry’s decision, thanking him for the step but saying it “does not go far enough” and pushing for an all-inclusive expansion.

Coincidently, Curry also received praise on his “courageous first step” by Soud.

She said for the sake of the city, she’d like to see both sides accept what Curry has issued and drop the issue to “move forward with other issues that confront Jacksonville.”

That isn’t likely. Instead, it’ll begin again Thursday.

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