The sponsor of that very controversial measure to outlaw discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals in San Antonio city government says he is willing to remove one passage of the proposal which has sparked outrage among Christian and conservative groups, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Section 2-552(b) of the proposal states 'No person shall be appointed to a position if the City Council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group, or organization on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender identity.'
That has prompted Christian leaders like Pastor Charles Flowers of Faith Outreach International that the free speech rights of people who have a religious belief that homosexuality is a sin could lead to them never having a voice in city government.
"The ordinance says if you have at any point demonstrated a bias, without defining what a bias is or who will determine whether or not one has been exercised, that you cannot get a city contract," Flowers told a Christian publication.
But Diego Bernal, the councilman who introduced the ordinance, says that is a misreading of the wording of the statute, which has been in place for decades to speak out against discrimination against people based on sex, race, or national origin.
"This doesn't in any way infringe on the First Amendment rights of anyone moving forward, nor has it in the past," Bernal said.
He says the language simply demonstrates that City Council has the authority to approve or reject nominees for any board or commission for any reason, or for no reason. Council may approve an avowed racist for a board position if it chooses.
"The rest of the council has the discretion to vote for against someone based on their own individual beliefs," he said.
Conservative groups say this language would disqualify evangelical Christians, and essentially all Muslims, from having any position in city government.
Bernal, who is an evangelical Christian, says the language has been reviewed by attorneys and has been determined not to violate First Amendment protections for religion or free expression. He points out that the proposed bill goes out of it's way to exempt religious institutions, schools, and churches from having their hands tied by the language of the law. For example, a pastor could not be censored for saying from the pulpit that he believes the Bible says homosexuality is wrong.
But Bernal says if the particular passage will block the law from being approved, he is willing to remove it.
"Doing something with it, whether it is amending it, editing it, removing it," he said. "I think a careful lawyer would look at it and say it is not doing what people are saying it is doing."
After being tabled in June, the measure, which would essentially place the city on record as opposing any discrimination based on sexual orientation or 'gender identity,' is set to come before a council committee again next week.
Bernal says every other major city in Texas has similar laws in place, and no city has experienced any attempt to restrict the free speech rights of people of faith.