“What Problem Are We Trying To Solve HERE?”

CHAMBERSBURG – The fourth meeting of the Special Exploratory Committee charged by the Chambersburg Borough Council on the possibility of adopting a LGBTQ non discrimination ordinance and local Human Relations Committee to enforce such code, took place last evening with guest testifiers from the business and legal perspective. 

Mike Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation was first to speak and engage in a dialogue with the committee, consisting of council members Kathy Leedy of the third ward, Michael Herbert of the second ward and Heath Talhelm of the fifth ward. 

Ross started by asking a simple question “what problem are we trying to solve here?” He went on to say that in all his years of talking to business owners and having discussions with employers, this issue as a problem, has never been brought to his attention, and he pointed out the state and federal government already provides for protections for this group in the way of employment protections. 

In response to being asked what businesses would be most concerned about, Ross explained that new layers of regulation are always something of concern. He added businesses have to look at the cost of compliance and they want to understand if those costs are justified by the benefits that the regulations are bringing to the community.  He also expressed that he didn’t think peoples feelings as victims or towards other people aren’t necessarily best addressed by laws. 

In the end Ross said consistency of laws from town to town and the stability of laws is very important to business and work force development, and lack of these is perceived as harmful. He also elicited from Leedy and Herbert that one of the main goals of the LGBTQ community was not to solve problems here but to get these laws passed in town after town to persuade the state to pass a state wide law.

Stephen Christian, President of the Greater Chambersburg Chambersburg of Commerce, spoke next and largely echoed Mike Ross’s comments saying the issue had not been seen as a problem by the members of the chamber as far as he knew. He also said they typically approach layers of regulation and new regulatory bodies with  some skepticism as to how this will really be helpful and the negative effects they might have. He expressed his belief that the diversity of a community is the glorious by product of thriving and vibrant economy as much as anything else.

He again reiterated that the state already has a Human Relations Commission to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community and asked if there was a very large volume of discrimination cases being filed from this community – that he wanted to better understand the actual problem and to what extent is it before looking at how the solutions should be manufactured. He said he wanted to see what is the issue to be addressed and what is the quantification of this before he could say if this solution should be tried.

Jeremy Samek and Randall Wenger, both attorneys from the Independence Law Center and who work in conjunction with the PA Family Institute then addressed the committee. Samek began by saying that as a foundation and intent of all concerned with this issue, is to treat others with respect but that laws, such as the local ordinance proposed, does not necessarily achieve its intent. 

They spoke of several important legal complications that this law would present, chief among them is that the law does not treat sex and gender issues in the same way as race and these complications are currently involved in many legal disputes at the state and local levels. Sex and gender are sometimes treated the same and sometimes as two totally different categories. This makes it very difficult for any body at the local level to properly interpret when these categories are involved in true discrimination. 

They pointed out that there are not a lot of cases handled at the local level and the most common cases that end up getting addressed are where the realm of belief systems, both religious and differing world views, which are more properly are handled by live and let live disagreements, get pulled into being interpreted as violations of these non-discrimination laws. These cases are then more apt to get tied up in litigation, sometimes lasting for years which would cost both the borough and the litigant businesses or individuals a lot of money.

The two lawyers also stressed that when it comes to religious rights, exemptions for religious groups that most of these local ordinances include, will not go far enough to protect first amendment principles which should  also extend to the individual who may use their creative talents in their business conforming to their religious beliefs, or other requirements by religious organizations that their employees share their religious mission.

The next two meetings of the Special Exploratory Group will be July 21st with guest Scott Bowerman of Racial Reconciliation and July 28th with a speaker from the LGBTQ activist group, the PA Youth Conference.