Prop 5 will encourage discrimination

There is much that makes me grateful to be here in Anchorage and to call myself an Alaskan. I find Alaskans to be hospitable, fair minded and down to earth.

Our community has been engaged in a vigorous debate on Proposition 5, on Tuesday's municipal election ballot. I hope that in last few days of the debate we discuss this sensitive issue with respect for the dignity and civil rights of all persons.

While the purported reason for this initiative is to end discrimination, Anchorage is, in fact, a tolerant place now to live and work. The danger is that the enactment of the initiative will create a large new class of discrimination where none now exists. All of us wish to be treated fairly, and we aspire to treat others the same. Yet Proposition 5 fails to move us toward that goal.

Neither federal nor Alaska anti-discrimination laws have ever divided persons into classes based on "sexual orientation" or "transgender identity," as Proposition 5 seeks to do here, but certain other states and cities have adopted similar laws. Unfortunately, these laws have a track record of seriously infringing on the free exercise of religion, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. A few examples:

• In New Jersey, a United Methodist ministry is facing prosecution from state officials for not allowing a homosexual "civil union ceremony" to occur at a beachfront worship pavilion owned by the ministry, even though the couple was able to find another beachfront location to accommodate their event.

• In New Mexico, a wedding photographer was found guilty of "discrimination" simply because she politely declined an invitation to photograph a homosexual "commitment ceremony." The photographer explained that, as a Christian, she felt the ceremony conflicted with her deeply held beliefs and that she could not participate in it. The same-sex couple did not have any trouble finding a photographer for their event, but nevertheless used New Mexico's law to punish the photographer, who had a conscience objection.

• Also in New Jersey, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America was guilty of "discrimination" for denying a leadership position to an openly homosexual person. This ruling occurred despite the fact that the Boy Scouts is a private organization and has a long-standing policy that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with its values and beliefs. The New Jersey court action was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court -- but only in a narrow 5 to 4 ruling, which underscores the very tenuous state of constitutional liberties when threatened by such laws.

I do not doubt that many supporters of Proposition 5 are sincere in their commitment to ending discrimination. But the sad irony is that Proposition 5 will actually authorize and encourage discrimination to occur against religious institutions and numerous private citizens in Anchorage, based only on their decision to operate their businesses, schools, organizations and professional careers in a manner that is consistent with their consciences.

In our Catholic tradition, we believe there is an essential distinction between unjust discrimination, which is the arbitrary violation of human rights, and the necessary limitations on the exercise of our rights when it is required to protect the justice that is due to others, and the common good.

Proposition 5, regrettably, makes no such distinctions. It sweeps with a broad brush, and would usher in a new era of intolerance in Anchorage, all done in the name of "ending discrimination."

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz leads the Archdiocese of Anchorage in the Catholic Church.