LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A controversial statement of faith is legal under city law, the Lansing City Attorney says.
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, First Ward Councilman Ryan Kost read a portion of the Lansing City Rescue Mission’s statement of faith into the record.
The document states sexuality can only be expressed in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman. Any violations, including homosexuality and being transgender, can result in suspension of an employee, board member or volunteer.
After reading the statement into the record, Kost asked, “Is that a violation of the Human Rights Ordinance?”
The City Attorney’s office responded to Kost’s question.
“The City Rescue Mission is permitted to require their employees, board members and volunteers to be ‘members of or who conform to the moral tenets of that religious institution or organization,’” wrote Lisa Hagen-Lawrence, a deputy city attorney. “This is consistent with constitutional law.”
The City Rescue Mission provides food and shelter for many of Lansing’s homeless population. The organization began in 1911 in Lansing. It does not receive any funding from the city government.
Laura Grimwood, a spokeswoman for the Mission, says volunteers to the agency are not required to sign the statement of faith, however employees and board members are.
City Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley tells 6 News she stands by the city’s opinion, but it may be time for change in the city’s Human Rights Ordinance, which was adopted in 2006. She believes the language in the local ordinance is too broad.
“I think there is an appetite to revisit the ordinance,” she said by phone Wednesday night. “You heard me say I was troubled by this. Ryan is obviously troubled. ”
Kost says he would support revisiting the ordinance. He called the exemption broad.
“Hate should not have a loophole,” he tells 6 News.
Rescue Mission Executive Director Mark Criss told 6 News Sept. 14 the organization does not discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in providing services.
“We just shelter people. We don’t ask. We don’t identify. They don’t identify. It’s not relevant to us providing a safe place for you tonight,” he said.
Jay Kaplan, LGBTQ+ Rights Project Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, says federal case law has not been as broad when identifying where a religious exemption related to faith can be applied to employees.
“The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t gone that far at this point in time,” he tells 6 News. “Considering the janitor or the cook a ministerial employee (and or having some religious function) is going beyond what the Court has held.”
Kost says he doesn’t have an issue with people’s religious beliefs. “People are entitled to their religious beliefs,” says Kost. “But I don’t believe religious beliefs should be discriminatory.”