Arguments Held in Challenge to Louisville Non-Discrimination Law

September 18, 2002 12:00 am

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CINCINNATI — A physician today told a federal appeals court in Cincinnati that the First Amendment should allow him to discriminate against lesbians and gay men who apply to work for him. Dr. J. Barrett Hyman of Louisville, Kentucky argued that being prohibited from discriminating is a violation of his religious liberty.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union , which prevailed in the lower court, urged the appeals court to affirm that the Constitution does not excuse employers from their obligation to obey civil rights laws because of their personal religious beliefs. Like similar laws nationwide, the ordinance in Louisville includes exemptions for religious organizations, such as churches. However, as a private employer Hyman’s medical practice is subject to the law.

“”We absolutely support Dr. Hyman’s right to believe and worship however he pleases,”” said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney with the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the ACLU, “”but that does not mean he has the right to impose those beliefs on others in the workplace.””

The case was brought on behalf of the doctor by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative group founded by Pat Robertson, which seeks to have the ordinances in Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County declared invalid. According to the lawsuit, Hyman said he believes that lesbian and gay people are “”morally unfit for employment”” in his medical practice.

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the ACLU’s position in the case, noting that if Hyman’s lawsuit were successful, it could jeopardize the basic civil rights of a broad range of Americans, including people of color, women, and people with disabilities. Since John Ashcroft took office as Attorney General in January 2001, however, the Department of Justice has been silent in the case.

During arguments, one of the judges asked whether Hyman’s argument differs from those would-be discriminators offered up in past attempts to justify not hiring women. “”We’re glad such similarities aren’t going unnoticed by the court,”” said Cooper, who argued the case along with an attorney for the city of Louisville. Similar religious arguments had been brought up in opposition to passage of federal and state civil rights laws in the 1960’s and 70’s by people and groups who refused to hire women, African Americans, and religious minorities.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Kentucky represented the Fairness Campaign, a grassroots group formed to support passage of the non-discrimination ordinances in Louisville and Jefferson County.

The ACLU’s brief in J. Barrett Hyman v City of Louisville, et al, is at:

Information on the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s brief in this case is at:

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