Bishop Estévez Shares Concerns with Proposed Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville

Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine sent the following letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and members of the Jacksonville City Council this week concerning the proposed Human Rights Ordinance. He urges changes to the proposed ordinance.

Dear Mayor Curry,

Bishop Felipe Estevez 600x800

                      Bishop Felipe J. Estévez

On behalf of the Diocese of St. Augustine, I respectfully submit the following comments on the proposed language to amend several chapters of the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) Code to insert” … sexual orientation, gender identity or expression … ” into the current listing of personal conditions or statuses which may not be the basis for discrimination.
As Catholics we believe that unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be avoided. Accordingly, we strongly support any city ordinance that fosters the respect and dignity of every human being, regardless of sexual orientation, in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

At the same time, our constant conviction has been and continues to be that sexual activity between persons of the same gender is contrary to the moral principles which come to us through the words of the Holy Bible as well as good reason, and which we have no right or authority to change. Our support for the proposed ordinance amendment, therefore, would not extend to any provision, construction, or interpretation that might seem to sanction, imply, or require acceptance of homosexual expression or activity in the areas covered by the proposed legislation. Additionally, and despite recent court rulings defining the secular understanding of marriage to include same-sex couples, we are concerned that the “forced” toleration or even sanctioning of same-sex expression or activity will further undermine the institution of marriage as we understand it, and the integrity of the family in our society.

We have great concern as well, that the proposed amendment to the ordinance goes beyond the prohibition of discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, and includes ” … gender identity or expression … “. Certainly our Catholic beliefs are that all those who struggle with their human condition must be afforded great respect, dignity, and appropriate assistance. However, in prohibiting “gender identity or expression” as an area of just consideration, the proposed amendment in effect mandates acceptance of a view of personhood which is greatly offensive to our fundamental beliefs. More specifically, the proposed amendment is predicated on the false idea that “gender” is nothing more than a social construct or psychological reality that can be subjectively chosen regardless of the objective reality of one’s biological sex. Our firmly held belief is that each person is a precious human being created by God and in God’s image and likeness as either a male or a female. The biblical basis of our faith would not permit us to condone or cooperate in any aspect of the alteration of a person’s birth gender.

In the name of forbidding two bases for discrimination, the proposed change in the city ordinance’s language actually introduces a far more pernicious form of discrimination which strikes at a basic right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The proposed ordinance will exclude, that is to say, discriminate against, people of faith precisely on the basis of their sincerely and deeply held religious beliefs. It would do this by lending the moral authority and economic power of the city government to an understanding of gender and human sexuality to which faithful Catholics, other people of faith and many others; may not, in conscience, assent.

This is a problem not only of principle but of practice, as it will jeopardize the religious freedoms and rights of Catholic Church entities ( e.g., parishes, ministries, and schools), religious nonprofits, professionals, and the private businesses of people with strongly held contrary religious beliefs. Thus, Unless strong conscience exemptions are provided for these groups in the proposed amendments we are sure to suffer economic and social impacts ranging from discrimination in governmental grants to costly litigation to enforce our First Amendment right to practice our faith as it has been lived for over 2,000 years, to the disruption of ageless social mores based upon natural (and we believe God-given) gender differences.

For the foregoing reasons, I strongly encourage members of the City Council to ensure that the proposed ordinance amendment not overreach into areas regarding gender identity or its expression but, instead, focus squarely on issues of human dignity in relation to unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – a cause which can be embraced by all people of good will and which in no way concomitantly infringes upon the First Amendment rights of others.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez, S.T.D.
Bishop of St. Augustine

Click here to read a letter from Bishop Felipe J. Estévez that will be read at Mass in all parishes of Duval County either this weekend or next.

Click here for a list of the Jacksonville City Council members