Pocatello city officials met with an attorney for a Washington, D.C.-based conservative group brought in by the Mormon church a few weeks before councilors rejected an ordinance intended to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.
The Idaho State Journal reported that Jacki Pick of the American Religious Freedom Program on April 4 met with Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and council members Jim Johnston, Steve Brown, Roger Bray, Eva Johnson-Nye and Craig Cooper. City attorneys also took part.
The meetings were held over five sessions and none included a quorum of the council, so no notes were taken.
A vote on the anti-discrimination ordinance planned later that day was delayed until April 18. At that meeting, the six city councilors split 3-3 with Johnson-Nye, Bray and Gary Moore voting for the ordinance. Those opposed were Steve Brown, Craig Cooper and Jim Johnston. The mayor cast the deciding vote to reject the ordinance 4-3. All four votes against the ordinance were from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A new hearing on a revised version of the ordinance is set for June 6.
City records obtained by the newspaper from a Pocatello resident show Larry Fisher, regional public affairs director for the LDS Church, contacted Blad and told him the American Religious Freedom Program wanted to meet with city leaders to “provide information regarding non-discrimination guidelines.”
On its website, American Religious Freedom Program describes itself, in part, as combating “those voices in the national conversation that are increasingly negative about religious freedom and the role of religion in public life.”
Fisher, in an email to the newspaper, said “ARFP has expertise in this area, and the Church offered to the Mayor and City Council to put them in touch, and they accepted. Our desire is to be helpful in developing an ordinance that unites our community.”
The rejected ordinance – which mirrors protections passed in Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow in the past 15 months – would have criminalized discrimination in cases of housing, employment and use of public services.
Fisher, in another email to the paper, defended the decision to have Pick meet with city leaders: “The Church has spoken publicly in support of nondiscrimination ordinances, and also recognizes the need for balance and the importance of all voices being heard. We felt that ARFP had a valuable perspective to offer regarding balance in crafting nondiscrimination ordinances.”
The Mormon Church is among the religious organizations urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a California provision approved by voters banning gay marriage.