Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Religious Challenge to Kentucky Gay Rights Ordinance

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
December 12, 2002 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY — A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit by a Kentucky doctor that sought to strike down a local ordinance making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

The court found that the ordinance did not affect the religious practices of Dr. J. Barrett Hyman, a Baptist and local gynecologist, and therefore his lawsuit was baseless.

“This is a great victory for all the citizens of Louisville and Jefferson County,” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project who defended the ordinance on behalf of the Fairness Campaign, the organization that lobbied for the passage of the ordinance. “This case was never about Dr. Hyman’s religious liberties. It was an attempt to tear down important civil rights protections.”

Hyman claimed that his religious rights were violated by the anti-discrimination ordinance because it made it illegal for him to bar gay and transgender people from working in his medical office. The federal district court allowed Hyman to bring the lawsuit but dismissed all his claims under the U.S. Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution — including freedom of speech, religion and association claims.

Hyman appealed the lower court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. The court didn’t find it necessary to address the merits of Hyman’s claims, but found instead that he didn’t have the right to bring the lawsuit in the first place because the ordinance didn’t affect his religious practices.

“The kind of arguments that Hyman is advancing are as old as the civil rights movement itself,” said Diane Moten of Fairness Campaign. “He has every right to his religious beliefs, but those beliefs can’t be used to strike down the important anti-gay discrimination protections that many in our community worked so hard to secure for the citizens of Louisville.”

In a case that has become a national focal point in the debate over whether anti-gay religious beliefs can be used to override lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights protections, Hyman is represented by Pat Robertson=s American Center for Law and Justice.

“It’s shameful how our religious freedoms are being contorted to stand for bigotry and discrimination,” said Jeff Vessels, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky. “This result is a clear victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.”

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