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Nebraska City’s ‘Fairness Ordinance’ Triggers Firestorm

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A “fairness ordinance” in a Nebraska city has triggered a firestorm, with one state pro-family organization claiming it will trample on First Amendment rights.

The Lincoln City Council, located in the state capital, passed the ordinance on Feb. 14, according to a report by the Lincoln Journal Star.

“This 67-page ordinance affects everyone in the city from churches and schools to your gym and local swimming pool. It’s a nonpartisan issue,” Karen Bowling, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance said in a Feb. 18 statement. “The ordinance penalizes citizens for expressing a worldview different from those currently in positions of political power.”

The group claimed in a Feb. 15 release that the 67-page ordinance was an effort to circumvent a referendum on a version of the bill that passed in 2012 that was tied up by a signature campaign.

“Our message is simple: Let Us Vote. The Lincoln City Council should not be allowed to circumvent the will of the citizens of Lincoln,” the group said.

The ordinance includes an expansion of the city’s ban on “conversion therapy” and expands the definition of harassment. The Lincoln Human Rights Commission, a nine-person panel, would be empowered to enforce the measure, according to the ordinance.

“This ordinance is anything but fair – it should be called the ‘unfairness ordinance.’ It puts girls at risk by allowing men into girls’ bathrooms. It applies to private schools and not to public schools,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It prevents parents from helping their kids who are experiencing gender dysphoria. And it threatens to bankrupt families who instill traditional values on their children — anyone who disagrees could get fined up to $50,000.”

“I have been vocal across Nebraska and in Lincoln that I don’t believe children should be allowed access to life-altering gender transition surgeries. This week, the Lincoln City Council made it illegal for me to say that publicly in Lincoln without threat of serious fines and civil penalties,” Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent running for governor, said in a statement from his campaign. “Freedom of speech and religion are a cornerstone of our country and what it means to be American. It is unconscionable that a city government believes they can dictate the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of its citizens.”

If opponents of the ordinance gather 4,137 signatures in 15 days, the Lincoln City Council will have to either repeal the ordinance or put it up for a referendum, according to the Nebraska Family Alliance.

“The Constitution prohibits public officials from telling citizens what they can and cannot say,” Ryan Bangert, senior counsel and Vice President of legal strategy at the Alliance Defending Freedom told the DCNF. “But the Lincoln City Council’s ordinance does just that by outlawing dissent from its state-imposed orthodoxy on sex, marriage, and gender identity ideology.”

“This ordinance is a law worthy of a totalitarian state, not a constitutional republic. It is brazenly unconstitutional,” Bangert added.

The Lincoln Human Rights Commission did not respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.

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