City Responds to Request for Religious Exemption from Civil Rights Ordinance

nullHOLLAND — The Netherlands’ non-discrimination ordinance already protects the ability of religious organizations to exercise their beliefs, Holland’s city prosecutor said on Wednesday.

The lawyer was asked to address concerns that the Netherlands’ non-discrimination ordinance could lead to the targeting of faith-based organizations because of their beliefs.

The attorney, Ron Vander Veen, said faith-based organizations are already protected by exceptions in federal and state civil rights law that protect the religious conduct of religious organizations.

The concerns were raised by members of the public, led by Lighthouse Baptist Church pastor Bart Spencer, who formally asked the council for an amendment to the non-discrimination ordinance at the April 13 council meeting.

The Dutch ordinance, passed in August 2020, prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation and public services.

The ordinance states that in Holland no one may be discriminated against on the basis of age, race, national origin, color, disability, education, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, height, marital status, religion, source of income or weight.

Groups that have approached the council have said they are concerned that local law, as it stands, does not adequately protect charities or religious organizations in expressing their beliefs. The proposed amendment would add nonprofit religious organizations to the list of groups and scenarios that have been explicitly exempted from the non-discrimination ordinance.

Council members sought legal advice from Vander Veen after hearing the group’s concerns.

“I certainly don’t want there to be a loophole that somehow affects anyone’s First Amendment rights,” council member Scott Corbin said at the meeting on July 13. april. “I want to make sure that we protect all freedoms and all groups, including religious freedoms.”

Vander Veen made a May 4 presentation, saying religious groups already have a religious conduct exemption built into language that protects “any conduct legally protected by the Holland City Charter or the Michigan Constitution or the of the United States” as well as protections for religious groups in state and federal civil rights laws.

“I would add that there has not been a situation that I know of where anyone has been charged with a breach of our order because of their religious beliefs. And they won’t be, based on the exemptions of the prescription,” Vander Veen said.

Under federal civil rights law, religious organizations and religious educational institutions can engage in a form of employment discrimination by hiring only people who share the same religious beliefs. These groups must always abide by civil rights law by not discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

However, there remain unresolved tensions between the expression of religious beliefs and anti-discrimination laws that have come to the fore in the question of whether employers who religiously oppose same-sex relationships can refuse to hire employees. homosexuals.

When the Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights law protected gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination in a 2020 decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, Judge Neil Gorsuch’s opinion noted that judges were still “concerned about preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion” and should consider religious exceptions at a later date.

Following the attorney’s presentation, Mayor Nathan Bocks said he was confident the city’s current ordinance adequately protected religious freedom and saw no need for an amendment.

“Questions have been raised as to whether the order provides full protection to all members of the community, and it is very clear that it does, and we thought it was important to let everyone know. the community that there is no discrimination against the religious community that is created by the ordinance,” Bocks said.”[…] In fact, one of the things we do here at City Council at the start of every meeting is open prayer at the start of the meeting. The ability of people to express their religious beliefs is embraced in this community.”

— Contact journalist Carolyn Muyskens at and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.

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