Days before Monday’s Billings City Council meeting that will decide the future of the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, about 175 residents turned out to hear why the council ought to vote it down.
Joe Infranco, senior counsel with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group, delivered a two-hour talk that was part inspirational and part constitutional law survey.
Opponents to more traditional views on such issues of who may marry or which groups may require special protections, he said, “view religion as something you do on Sunday. But my faith is how I live beginning Monday morning. It is how I treat every human being, who is made in the likeness and image of God.”
Infranco, who has 36 years of legal experience, encouraged those in attendance to be civil in their discourse over such issues as the NDO or views about marriage — but not to be intimidated, especially if they choose to get up before the city council to share their views.
“Don’t be intimidated by these debates,” he said. “I don’t think we will see them forever. I think things will swing back the other way. People tell me that when my religious views disrespect who they are, that is a big problem. I think it’s important to be respectful, but I ask back, what about respect for my religious convictions and how I feel compelled to live those out?”
Speaking at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center, Infranco traveled from his Scottsdale, Ariz., home at the invitation of the Billings Family Action Committee.
Citing case after case that his group of 40 staff attorneys have helped argue in court, Infranco labeled it a “fundamental foolishness to force people to do things they don’t want to do,” such as conservative Christians who don’t want to photograph or provide flowers or cakes at gay weddings. “We are putting people out of business and squelching their religious values because we don’t want anything interfering with anti-discrimination. We are punishing people and making examples out of them. We are compelling people to use their talents in a way that violates their faith.”
People who say one can’t legislate morality are incorrect, he said.
“It’s often a young person who will stand up and say, ‘Who are you to impose your religious beliefs on me?’” he said. “Often that is accompanied by applause. The real question is, whose morality gets put in (to lawmaking)? Laws against murder might have something to do with the Ten Commandments, and laws against stealing, too. Religion is how we organize our beliefs, our view of meaning in the universe.”
Infranco received his loudest ovation when he made this statement: “I’m not concerned with being on the wrong side of history — I am concerned about being on the wrong side of truth.”
During a question-and-answer session following his talk, Infranco said he would find “a nondiscrimination law with a true exemption for religious organizations and churches much more palatable, but that has just not happened. I’m skeptical you will ever see an exemption that will satisfy me.”
The crowd reacted favorably to what they heard, nodding and clapping and making comments like “that’s right,” in the same manner church-goers sometimes do during a sermon that resonates.
“It makes a lot of sense what he’s saying,” said Amy Seymour, of Joliet. “The double standard that these ordinances try to enforce will crush us eventually.”
The double standard, she said, involves “people telling us how we should think, but we don’t have a voice” while laws are being written and voted upon.
“These ordinances are trying to shape the way we think rather than shape our behavior,” she said. “They really aren’t necessary.”