What would a nondiscrimination ordinance in the Borough of Chambersburg really mean?

August 24 – With a week and a half before a special Chambersburg Borough Council meeting to be held in the Capital Theater to discuss a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community in Chambersburg and forming a Human Relations Commission, what would adoption of such an ordinance mean to the people in Chambersburg?

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen took a hard look at the proposed ordinance Monday morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll explained, “It’s a concern in as much that this would be a new ordinance that applies to everyone in the borough, every business. There are a few carve outs for churches and other type of religious non-profit institutions, but if you’re working for the borough or you’re doing business in the borough, assuming this ordinance gets passed and I think it will, you’re going to need to be very aware of what these rules and regulations are because it subjects you potentially to a new complaint before this local Human Relations Commission that could accuse you of some sort of discrimination. The one silver lining if there’s any, and maybe that’s not a great way to put this, but when you look at the proposed ordinance that they pushed out on Friday, it got very very watered down from where they started this initially and what I mean by that is once again they’ve confirmed, you look at the enforcement mechanism in the ordinance, the borough can’t do anything.”

The borough can’t fine you. They can’t take you to court.

Barkdoll continued, “If you just refuse to participate in their mediation program, worst case, the matter gets forwarded to the state Human Relations Commission, which is where it would go anyway in the absence of a local commission. I don’t mean to minimize the ordinance but my point on that is the local borough has absolutely zero enforcement authority, but nonetheless, if such an ordinance is in place, you’re going to need to deal with it locally because even though they can’t strictly enforce it, they could create a lot of headaches for you. If you get subjected to these complaints, you’re going to have to answer questions. You may be subjected to showing up before a panel. Things that you really don’t want to deal with and up until now you’ve not had to deal with. I still think it gets back to what the business experts told the exploratory committee, what is it that you’re trying to solve here? We’re not aware that this is a problem that exists and if there is a problem, someone that has a complaint can already go to the state or the federal government to have it addressed. I think that’s the strongest argument against implementing this locally.”

Ryan said, “You just said it has no teeth in it. Even if the borough says we’ve got a complaint, fine, knock yourself out, I’m not showing up to your meetings, I’m not playing your games here.”

Jansen commented, “The problem is once you put this into an ordinance and we know there’s an ideology sweeping the country by which violations of nondiscrimination, hate speech is getting so expanded to the ridiculous levels of micro-aggressions. We already saw it in action here with our council member who got accused of violating a racial nondiscrimination policy that the borough has for itself, its own employees, its elected officials and anybody it does business with where somebody stretched something into her own personal truth and it got accepted by the council as a racial nondiscrimination issue. That’s they kind of thing I’m getting worried. If you put this into law, you’ll have a lot more people willing to test this law and then you have a reputation of a business or an individual at stake here who may have to then push this or maybe someone will be bold enough to take it to the state level and try to push it into court and that kind of liability could be very expensive.”

Ryan said, “I want to be able to go back and return the favor. If that’s the path you’re going to take and believe you me, I know the newspaper will turn their head on it, and the social media-ites will be out there, but if this stuff starts getting some traction and there’s defense to be had here, we’ll find the path and we’ll make sure everybody understands just like we did with Allen Coffman, to make sure everybody understands there were people that jammed it in Allen’s back on council and all you had to do was read those emails and you knew full well that wasn’t the case. There’s got to be a return favor on this for those that will serve on this panel, don’t you think?”

Barkdoll said there is a civil tort action called malicious prosecution.

He said, “If there’s evidence that someone is filing frivolous complaints just to harass you or your business you could have a civil action for malicious prosecution.”

If Chambersburg adopts this ordinance, they will be the 70th municipality in PA to do so.

Barkdoll said, “I think it’s something that everyone should be keeping a very close eye on. September 1 will be the vote. The fact that they moved the venue to the Capital Theater, they’re anticipating a big turnout, but it appears the votes are in place to pass this, but it’s very close. Could there be one or two council people that change their mind and say we’re not going to go in this direction, we’re going to leave it to the experts at the state and federal level? Maybe so. So if you live in Chambersburg, you have a business in Chambersburg, contact council, let them know you’re thoughts on this.”

Jansen added, “What worries me though is it’s becoming more and more acceptable for ridiculous situations are being considered hate speech that aren’t. I’m afraid as this gets pushed farther and farther and you put ideology into law, which is essentially what they’re doing. Read that Gettysburg ordinance. What bothers me is they say about how people can be prosecuted if they do something to encourage people to break this nondiscrimination ordinance. What in the world does that mean? Is that maybe a preacher preaching in a local church? Or maybe not in church, not in the organized one that they say they’ll protect, maybe just an individual who says I believe if you’re genetically a male, you’re a male and if you’re genetically a female, you’re a female. Will that be considered coercing people to break a nondiscrimination ordinance? I’m very worried about the way this could go.”

Another prong of the ordinance issue is the idea of education. There’s an education component here which could be training-type outlets or seminars that a local business or local people would have to attend should a complaint be filed.

Barkdoll said, “I’ve not heard any of that come up here locally yet, but I think it’s a valid question, and that may be the kind of thing that would evolve from this once it’s passed going into the next year and the following year.”

Jansen said, “Let’s call it what it is though, indoctrination. I don’t call it education.”