Meadville Tribune

Local News

June 17, 2014

Petition created in opposition of anti-discrimination ordinance

MEADVILLE — Tension is growing around the issue of a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in the City of Meadville, as a group of citizens is gathering signatures for a petition of religious conscience. This is in opposition to the petition presented to Meadville City Council earlier this month which called for a non-discrimination law.

Rev. David McAfee, senior pastor of St. Paul’s Reformed Church, has spent several hours at Valesky’s grocery store in Meadville this week, collecting signatures for the issue’s latest petition, titled “Protect Our Religious Right of Conscience” and passing out copies of the Tribune’s June 4 City Council coverage.

“We’re a concerned group of citizens, churches and businesses,” he said. “This ordinance is not good for Meadville and definitely not good for the businessman, who we believe has the right to his moral convictions and to follow his conscience.”

His photocopies included an additional explanation, detailing claims of what activists want from City Council and describing the ordinance’s establishment of transgender access to public restrooms and dressing rooms.

The section defines transgender people as “those who think they are a different sex than how God created them” and highlights part of the non-discriminatory petition referring to perceptions of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, which is a major point of concern, according to McAfee.

At the June 4 Meadville City Council meeting, advocates for a non-discrimination law presented their case and 75 signatures to City Council, seeking legislation that would ensure fair and equal access to housing and employment as well as the inception of a volunteer commission to oversee and enforce the law.

They claimed, among other points, that such legislation would make Meadville more competitive in attracting candidates for jobs at businesses and institutions that must recruit professionals from outside of the area.

McAfee reported more than 250 signatures opposing the anti-discrimination ordinance have been collected by the group he represents between Sunday and Tuesday. He said the issue was pointed out to him by Valesky’s store owner Garth Valesky, who declined comment.

McAfee said that those interested may sign the petition Wednesday at St. Paul’s Reformed Church, 1070 Park Ave., between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and at Valesky’s, 1944 Water St., between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“We plan on making a strong stand against the possibility of that ordinance,” McAfee said, announcing plans to present the matter before City Council at its meeting Wednesday.

McAfee claimed the non-discriminatory petition is an assault on business leaders’ rights as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution, particularly the Declaration of Rights, Section 3, which contains the following mention emphasized by the group, that “ human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

The petition has upset several Meadville citizens, including Meadville resident Robert Longstreth Jr., who called in to the Tribune in support of gay rights, expressing his disdain for the petition represented by the group opposing a non-discriminatory ordinance.

“This whole gay rights thing is a civil rights matter, not a morality matter,” Longstreth said. “Someone’s willing to sit there and say (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals) don’t have a right to work. They might as well take us back to the civil rights era.”

McAfee’s group is working in conjunction with the American Family Association of Pennsylvania to accumulate enough support to defeat the non-discrimination petition before Meadville City Council, according to McAfee.

“I think we can put forth a strong showing that this is something people are predominantly not in favor of,” McAfee said, mentioning Meadville business owners may become threatened by attacks on their rights and leave the area as a result. “I’d think (City) Council would be concerned about keeping its businesses.”

What to watch for next

Meadville City Council’s next meeting is Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Meadville City Building on Diamond Park. Council is expected to receive presentations from those for and against a citywide non-discrimination ordinance.

Petition against non-discrimination ordinance

Those against a non-discrimination ordinance have created a petition titled “Protect Our Religious Right of Conscience.” The petition states, “We are residents of the City of Meadville and the surrounding communities who shop in, do business in and worship in the City of Meadville. As such, we object to the passage of any anti-discrimination ordinance in the City of Meadville which specifies sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and marital status. Such an anti-discrimination law would seek to force citizens, employers and property owners to violate their consciences and would be in violation of the religious freedom granted to us in Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights.”

Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights reads: “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or models of worship.”

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