Plano was not exactly living in the Dark Ages before December 8, 2014 when the City Council passed a contentious “Equal Rights Policy” ordinance that prohibited “discrimination in places of public accommodation, employment practices, housing transactions and city contracting practices.” It passed by a vote of 5-to-3. Critics claim it infringes on First Amendment rights. Legal experts say it would stymie free speech.
This was not the first time that Plano, the self-titled “City of Excellence” passed an ordinance. The last one was back in 1989 “to afford equal opportunities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all individuals regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin and handicapped status,” Breitbart Texas reported.
The newest ordinance City Council Agenda Item resulted in these changes: 1) change the name of the ordinance to “Equal Rights Policy;” 2) “expand the City’s policy to afford equal human rights to individuals regardless of US military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity to the other protected characteristics;” 3) “revise the outdated term ‘handicapped status’ to ‘disability status’” and 4) “prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation, employment practices, housing transactions and city contracting practices.”
Many Plano residents have sought to repeal the ordinance, feeling disenfranchised that Mayor Harry LaRosilier did not engage with the suburban Dallas community on the matter.
“The City of Plano never informed the public about this ordinance,” stated Liberty Institute attorney Cleve Doty, emphasizing that the mayor and City Council decided and voted upon a sweeping anti-freedom ordinance without so much as a public discussion.
Now, Plano residents are standing up ‘for freedom,’ he added.
The Plano-based Liberty Institute staffs nine constitutional attorneys, and is a religious freedom legal organization. They are giving advice and counsel to Plano residents and businesses who seek the repeal of the ordinance including groups like Plano Citizens United, who took a significant step to rescind the city ordinance. They had to collect a minimum of 3,822 registered Plano voter signatures required by petition to oppose to the ordinance by Tuesday, January 20.
Plano resident Mark Reid told Breitbart Texas that the grassroots group met and exceeded their goal, submitting approximately 5,000 petitions. Other organizers estimate there may have been as many as up to 8,000 petition signatures that were turned into Plano officials. By the end of the month, a validated final count of the petition is expected.
Once verified, this repeal could be put on the City Council agenda as early as February 9, according to the Dallas Morning News. Potentially, the ordinance could be repealed or put on a ballot for a vote.
Another flaw with the ordinance Doty told Breitbart Texas was that “this law presumes people are unfree.”
Plano Mayor Harry LaRosilier previously said, “The equal rights ordinance states that Plano is against discrimination, bullying and hatemongering,” the Dallas Morning News also reported.
There are concerns that the ordinance discriminates against those who seek to repeal it, not at all fostering an environment of good will or freedom. Currently, violations of the ordinance are considered misdemeanors and are subject to fines.
“The Constitution and state law guarantee freedom: freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion in particular. Plano’s new law revokes that freedom: it establishes a moral code for sexuality, sexual conduct, and social interactions, and criminalizes anyone who does not agree with or live by that code,” said Doty.
Another major concern to ordinance opponents has been the sections titled “Exclusions,” that purport to carve out protections for privacy, religious organizations, etc., but these sections offer inadequate provisions, are too vague, or contradict other sections, which Breitbart Texas reported previously.
“The City’s unelected bureaucrat will now tell citizens whether or not their speech or actions are ‘unjust‘ or make a ‘distinction’ the bureaucrat deems ‘unjust,’ including what one does in ‘social interactions,'” Doty continued.
Last year, Breitbart News reported on the Colorado bakery that declined to make a same-sex couple’s wedding cake because of his Christian beliefs that marriage was between a man and a woman. The bakery owner had been threatened with prison for his refusal to serve the customer and ultimately, stopped making wedding cakes because it was the only way he was able to avoid being forced to do so. A judge previously ruled a business owner cannot refuse service to a customer on the basis of sexual orientation. The baker, Jack Phillips, appealed to the commission, but it upheld the decision.
Doty told Breitbart Texas, “It puts many businesses under the thumb of City Hall about things as personal and private as bathrooms. It is impossible to tell how much this will cost in dollars—but easy to see how much freedom it eliminates. The City committed thousands if not millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees and to pay for bureaucrats who will investigate citizens to enforce the ordinance.”
Doty stated that they personally invited Plano’s mayor to debate on this ordinance: “any day, any time.” He responded that the debate “is over” even though no debate happened, however, thankfully, honest citizens have answered in support of religious freedom, according to the Liberty Institute attorney.
Opponents of a similar ordinance in Houston prepare to take their fight to court.
“We believe people should treat one another well, and be kind. In Plano, most people do so. But nobody wants a city ordinance that requires everyone to treat one another well at all times: that would eliminate citizens’ freedom and hand power to bureaucrats to decide what people should say and do in all areas of life. That is not America. This law is a massive power grab by the City. It is unconstitutional and violates state law. The law is fragrantly anti-freedom and eliminates the freedoms so many fought so hard to win,” Doty said.
Follow Merrill Hope, an original member of the Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.
[Editorial note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Plano ordinance passed by a vote of 5 to 4. It has been corrected to reflect that the vote was 5 to 3. Additionally, after the article was published, a representative of the Liberty Institute informed Breitbart Texas that the organization is a religious freedom group, not merely a Christian organization, and has represented clients of many different faiths. The article has been corrected to reflect that.]