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Bishop to mayor: Enforcing HRO bill would be 'wrought with peril'

Hundreds have spoken for, against ordinance to protect LGBT rights

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day before hundreds of citizens passionately spoke before the Jacksonville City Council on the potential expansion of the city's Human Rights Ordinance, the local Catholic bishop sent a letter to the mayor, voicing his opinion on the proposal.

The Most Rev. Felipe J. Estevez, of the Diocese of St. Augustine, said in his letter to Mayor Lenny Curry that the spirit of the amendment is good, but that the enforcement of it would be “wrought with peril.”

READ: Bishop Estevez's letter to Mayor Curry

The letter says that the amendment, which would expand the HRO to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, is good in principal, because it seeks to treat all people “with justice and dignity simply by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings made in the image and likeness of God.”

But Estevez says the proposal goes beyond that objective and “intruded into the realm of the personal freedom of many of the citizens of Duval County.”

“As much as this HRO amendment in its language and enforcement seeks to benefit and embrace certain groups and individuals; likewise, it must equally protect the rights to life, liberty, happiness and conscience of all those with deeply held religious beliefs – beliefs guaranteed them under the U.S. Constitution,” Estevez wrote.

A marathon City Council meeting Tuesday night on the future of the proposed Human Rights Ordinance expansion had to reconvene Wednesday morning to give the public more time for comments.

It was the second time that the Jacksonville City Council heard public comments, but the second reading of the revised HRO expansion bill meant a state-mandated opportunity of three minutes per person and for each person to be heard.

The bill has revived controversy among Jacksonville residents as the City Council attempts to tackle the issue for the third time. Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida not to offer legal protection to those groups in issues of housing and employment.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, a former mayor of Jacksonville and an outspoken proponent of expanding the HRO, said he's whittled his HRO expansion bill down to five pages and includes exemptions for churches and businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

For the HRO amendment to pass, 10 out of 19 council members will have to vote in favor, and it's likely to be a tight vote.

The City Council is still considering changes to the HRO and will discuss it in committee next week.

The full council is expected to vote on it Feb. 14.


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