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Fact check: Gay rights initiative wouldn't impact religious protection

Alex DeMarban

An Anchorage initiative, if it passes, will extend the city's anti-discrimination protections to gay and transgender people. The initiative leaves untouched existing law that allows religious groups and denominational institutions to give preferential treatment to people of the same faith.

"We felt it was important that if we want people to respect us in the public sector, we need to respect them in their religious arena," said Trevor Storrs, spokesman for the "One Anchorage" initiative.  

The clash over the initiative, set for a vote on April 3, is already heating up as the city's more religious conservatives begin to do battle with supporters of the proposal.

The "One Anchorage" initiative would amend Anchorage municipal code by adding sexual orientation or transgender identity to existing protections. Currently in Anchorage, it's illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age or physical or mental disability.

The proposed protections would be added to the municipality's equal rights code.

But the initiative does not propose any changes, not a single one, in the section known as "5.20.090 -- Religious exemptions." In fact, that clause is not even part of the proposed petition.

That religious-exemption clause allows religious institutions to, for example, legally deny someone a job because they're of a different faith, said Jeff Mittman, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. Another example: Denominational schools can legally refuse to hire teachers who don’t share their beliefs.  

You may have been confused about this whole issue if you read an article published earlier this month in the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

That article -- picked up and featured by the Alaska Dispatch -- said "religious liberty groups … are already raising concerns about the impact that the proposed law would have on faith-based institutions and nonprofits in Anchorage."

The article goes on to mention only one religious liberty group, the Alliance Defense Fund, a national legal fund defending "religious freedom, the sanctity of lifemarriage  and the family," according to its website. The fund analyzed the initiative, according to the article. In that analysis, the fund determined the initiative would "undermine religious liberty."

Now, this is where the article gets confusing. It does not mention that the initiative doesn't touch the religious exemption.

Instead, the article discusses the defense fund's argument against the current religious-exemption clause. The defense fund believes the religious-exemption is too weak and should be expanded beyond the religious arena. The fund argues that, for example, private employers should enjoy the religious-hiring preference in their workplace as well.

The argument in the article reads like a distraction. Some might even call it dishonest. And lying or bearing false witness against your neighbor is against the Ten Commandments.

The Anchorage Daily News also wrote an article addressing the issue.  

According to the article, Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, asked the defense fund to analyze the initiative. 

The Daily News could not get a copy of the analysis.

"Although the Family Council gave a copy of the Defense Fund analysis to the Catholic Anchor, the council declined to give the document to the Daily News. Minnery said the council shared it with a reporter for the Catholic publication because the reporter is aligned with the thinking of his group," the Anchorage Daily News article said.

A phone call to Minnery's cell phone Monday evening was not returned.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com.