An anti-discrimination bill may have passed the Senate on Tuesday, but it sparked a war of words between two religious entities that could extend to the House when it debates the measure.
At issue is whether gays, lesbians and transgender people should also be afforded the equal rights not to be discriminated against that others have because of their race, gender, age and ethnic origin.
It seems the Wyoming Association of Churches and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne have very different views of how religious entities should treat homosexuals.
Donna Adler, lobbyist and communications director of the Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers all of Wyoming, sent a handout to every senator before the body voted 24-6 to pass Senate File 115.
“I am aware of the smear campaign of the Wyoming Association of Churches in connection with our position on SF 115 — I will not be responding in kind,” she wrote.
Adler was right — she responded in mean. There was nothing kind about the words she used to attack gays and her belief they do not deserve protection from discrimination.
“People of faith have rights too,” she informed the senators.
Adler stated the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t hate people “who identify as having attractions not in line with their biology.” If people do not act upon those tendencies, she wrote, they are in communion with the church. However, if they do act upon them, Adler said the church views them as “engaging in seriously sinful behavior” that the church has no tolerance for.
The diocese’s representative believes SF 115 would operate “as a state bludgeon to force the church to condone seriously sinful behavior by taking persons engaging in it, with no mind to change their behavior, into the heart of the church’s institutions.
“That is a serious threat to the integrity of the church and an unconscionable interference with the exercise of religion by the state,” Adler concluded.
“I can do you no greater service than to be completely candid with you, even if others seek to rip me to shreds for it,” Adler wrote. “You are policy makers; and there is much at stake. The policy that you set paves the way for the shape of a world to come.
“Are you absolutely sure that you have a clear conception of the world you will help bring to birth with this piece of legislation and are you absolutely sure that the people of Wyoming and you yourselves want to live in that world?” she asked.
But in stark contrast to what Adler told the Senate, Chesie Lee, director of the Wyoming Association of Churches, said she understands the Roman Catholics’ official position is that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
In her 27 years of lobbying and working with lawmakers, Lee said, Adler’s Senate handout is the most disrespectful one she’s ever seen towards other people. “I hope never to see anything like it again,” she added. “We, as people of faith, are called to love our neighbors, not to cast stones.”
Lee concluded her statement by writing: “We challenge churches to champion justice. Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice.”
The bill has a religious exemption in it for nonprofit organizations.