Five local churches and a radio station have won a lawsuit against the city of De Pere.
Their dispute was with an anti-discrimination ordinance they claimed conflicted with their beliefs and practices.
This non-discrimination ordinance passed in November last year and went into effect March 1st.
The De Pere common council made discrimination in housing, public accommodation and employment illegal.
Five of the 14 classes protected under the ordinance include age, color…marital status, religion and sexual orientation.
Churches St. Mark Lutheran, Hope Lutheran, Destiny, Christ the Rock and Crosspoint argued this ordinance was not specific enough and religious entities should be exempt because they are not like normal businesses.
“The Wisconsin constitution provides greater rights more than any other state for religious liberty,” says one of the the churches’ attorney Kevin Snider. “We believe that because there was no religious exemption in this ordinance that it did violate the Wisconsin constitution.”
These churches won their lawsuit after a judge ruled Friday they should not be included as public accommodations, which De Pere defines as an establishment that offers goods and services.
Their counsel says including them as such would be unconstitutional.
“That would be an existential threat to religious institutions because they have traditional views on any variety of things,” says Snider. “Marital status, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and the like.”
Local Five reached out to several of those churches’ to get reaction.
No one has responded, but this lawyer says the timing of their win couldn’t have been better.
“They’re pleased at the timing of this right before the Christmas season,” says Snider. “As you know, religious institutions provide a lot of activities and programs for the community and they didn’t want this ordinance hanging over them during this time.”
Wisconsin’s constitution does have a conscience provision that protects religious institutions.
Local Five spoke to the De Pere city attorney who said they can not make an official comment until the decision is reviewed.