Decision time on discrimination

Cd'A City Council to consider adopting ordinance tonight

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COEUR d'ALENE - A pastor at one of the area's largest churches is asking his congregation to oppose an anti-discrimination ordinance the city of Coeur d'Alene will consider adopting tonight.

Real Life Ministries Pastor Jim Putman urged church members in a Facebook post to fight the proposed rule on grounds that would be "a pathway to promoting sin."

"Homosexuality is no worse then [sic] adultery or stealing but it is still sin," Putman wrote last week. If "someone told me I had to hire or rents [sic] space to a thief I would not like that - neither would I like this."

He wrote that people who support the ordinance believe that homosexuality is not a choice and people are created that way, but "there is no solid scientific evidence for that and the Bible clearly calls it sin."

At the end of the post, which received nearly 40 comments and 172 "likes," Putman called for his congregation to call the city and voice their concerns.

"We need to let them know they will be voted out if they go forward with this," Putman wrote. "Be respectful and loving but understand they are taking our community down a path that will continue to tell our kids homosexuality is a healthy and viable lifestyle - it is unhealthy and sinful - these people need Jesus and our love but not our approval."

Real Life Ministries is a non-denominational Evangelical Christian church based in Post Falls. Putman declined an interview request, but the church has grown to an average weekend attendance of more than 7,000 since its 1998 founding, according to its website. The church is also located in Coeur d'Alene, Silver Valley, Boise, Spokane, Spokane Valley and Newport, Wash.

Coeur d'Alene would join four other Idaho cities to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance that would be aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in areas of employment and housing by preventing people from discriminating against them solely based on "sexual orientation, gender identity and expression."

Boise, Sandpoint, Ketchum and Moscow adopted similar ordinances already.

Coeur d'Alene could join them, but it's not a done deal.

Council members Mike Kennedy and Ron Edinger have said they support the ordinance, while council members Steve Adams and Dan Gookin don't. Councilwoman Deanna Goodlander said she's "conflicted" over the ordinance, while Councilman Woody McEvers hasn't weighed in.

Mayor Sandi Bloem, who only votes when a deciding seventh vote is needed, said she's in favor of it.

"At this point, I would be in favor of anything that would protect the right of the citizens," she said.

After the proposed ordinance went to the General Services Committee last week, discourse on the subject ran wild.

National Public Radio ran a story on the local issue, as did The Wall Street Journal, which published a story and two photos on May 29. The Coeur d'Alene Press online story had 152 comments, making it the most commented-upon story of the week.

"It's a historical moment," said Tony Stewart, Human Rights Task Force on Human Relations member, on the attention the ordinance has received.

Stewart brought the ordinance to the GSC last week, and is confident the city will adopt it after the GSC recommended it do so.

"I'm very, very pleased with the direction we're headed," he said.

But opponents of the ordinance say the new rule would grant special privileges to a small group and would infringe on religious freedom.

Churches and religious nonprofits would be exempt from the rule's umbrella. Also, the rule wouldn't apply to people renting out a room in their home or a duplex.

While that may be so, opponents said, individuals wouldn't be allowed to make decisions based on their religious beliefs. That steps on religious freedom, they said.

Goodlander on Monday said she has already received more than 100 letters from people who oppose it, more than she ever received on other controversial topics, like McEuen Park. She said she's concerned the ordinance language may grant special privileges, and would prefer the city slow down and look at all the other ordinances out there, not just adopt Boise's version now.

"People's right to do what they want should be a part of the picture," she said, adding, "We haven't had a chance to look at what other cities have adopted."

Adams and Gookin have said it isn't even a topic the city should consider. Gookin said it's a national issue and the city taking it up is akin to him scheduling North Korean relations as an agenda item. He said late last week he might make a motion for exactly that to drive home his point that the city shouldn't "meddle in national political issues."

The controversial topic comes at the same time that Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger has said he's considering dropping the office's Boy Scout charter because the organization recently amended its rules to allow homosexual scouts.

Wolfinger, a former Coeur d'Alene City Councilman and Human Rights Education Institute board member, is an elder at Real Life Ministries, whose pastor is speaking out against the ordinance.

Wolfinger told The Press in previous interviews that the scouts' policy is in direct violation of Idaho law that prohibits sodomy. Wolfinger didn't return messages from The Press late last week or Monday.

He was on the HREI board between 2007 and 2009, according to HREI.

"I think (Real) Life is pulling the strings for him," said Tom Carter, HREI director, on Wolfinger's Boy Scout stance. "You're either for human rights or not, I'll put it that way. You can't be a halfway human rights supporter."

The proposed rule would make any violation a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

It's an ordinance needed to protect human rights, proponents say, because state and federal laws don't cover it. Now, landlords can reject a housing applicant based on his or her sexual preference without legal ramifications. Employers can fire employees for the same reason.

The City Council meeting is at 6 p.m. in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

Busy night

The City Council has other big items on its plate tonight.

It will consider whether it wants to take ownership of roughly 5 miles of East Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive, as well as whether Blackridge Properties LLC. should be allowed an easement to connect a tunnel to the Front Avenue parking structure tied to the McEuen Park project.

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