(St.Joseph,MO)The council chambers were packed Monday night in anticipation of the city council’s groundbreaking decision to establish a non-discrimination ordinance for St. Joseph.
After nearly five months of community discussion and public work sessions, the city council voted 8-1 to establish a non-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance expands on what the city considers a protected class and prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status in housing, employment and public services.
Over a dozen citizen’s spoke out in support and in opposition on the ordinance. Former city councilwoman Pat Jones spoke out against the ordinance, suggesting it should have been put to a public vote.
“On an issue as powerful as this nine people don’t have the right to speak for the whole city. This issue should be brought up to the whole city,” Jones said. “Nine people are going to make this decision for the whole city and are going to divide this city right down the middle, we don’t need division in this city, we need unity.”
Brian Myers,Councilmember at Large, said he respects the former council members opinion, but the months spent contributing to the formation of the ordinance suggests the community is already unified in their decision.
“This non-discrimination ordinance in it’s inceptions, [and in] the collaboration that we did with members of the community and members of the Chamber of Commerce was the epitome of collaboration and unity in bringing members of the community together to get the much needed non-discrimination ordinance passed,” Myers said.
Since the first reading of the proposed ordinance, a clause was added stating religious organizations will be exempt from complying with ordinance.
Michael Jasper spoke out in support of the ordinance, assuring the members of the religious community the ordinance would be in compliance with state law.
“Faith based organizations are completely exempt from the ordinance and that’s common to almost every non-discrimination ordinance in the state. State law also says that religious organizations are not required to follow non-discrimination ordinances,” Jasper said.
Members of various religious congregations spoke against the ordinance stating it was in violation of the beliefs of their specific church, however Jasper along with other self-identified Christians were in support of the ordinance.
“As a person of faith it troubles me that in this day in age ministers and clergy people would actually step forward and argue for the right and defend the right to discriminate against people,” Jasper said.
The ordinance also establishes the Human Rights Commission, a voluntary city commission to mediate and resolve discrimination disputes.
The council will now seek out members of the community to make up the Human Rights Commissions. The commission will have nine members recommended by the city council. At least one member will be assigned to represent a specific interest group including small business (less than 50 employees),large business (more than 50 employees), education, social services and the protected classes.