Pastor argues against proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, N.C. — A proposed non-discrimination ordinance is ruffling feathers in Harrisburg.

Mary Perez drafted it in early January and sent it to all six municipalities in Cabarrus County. She presented it to the Harrisburg Town Council on Monday night.

“We want everyone to be protected and represented,” she said.

The ordinance would protect people from discrimination in housing, employment and public places regardless of race, creed, color, sex and sexual orientation.

Perez said it’s an extension of the rights already granted in the Constitution.

“The goal of the ordinance is to protect people who are not already protected from discrimination,” Perez said. “For me, it’s the queer community, the LGBTQ community that is not protected in a lot of other places.”

Some argue the ordinance would, in turn, discriminate against churches and religious business owners who do not share similar beliefs, such as being forced to marry or hire gay people.

Pastor David Henderson of Venture Church in Harrisburg spoke out against it at Monday’s meeting.

“I have some concerns regarding religious liberties, about many of those are spelled out pretty well in the Constitution and the First Amendment, as well as other protections that have been there which I would think, if this ordinance is passed, would face some stiff challenges from state legislation -- where it has not passed,” he said.

But Perez fired back that freedom of religion is already protected.

“This does not supersede the Constitution, so they’re protected already,” she said.

Harrisburg Mayor Steve Sciascia said a possible red flag about the ordinance is the penalty. It would assess a class 3 misdemeanor and $500 fine for violations.

“I think that was pretty troubling to the church community who, obviously, have different beliefs than what’s being presented here,” Sciascia said.

The town council did not take any action Monday night, but the mayor said they will continue to look at the proposal.

Perez said she’ll work with leaders to clarify the language so that everyone can get on board with the mission.

“We would rather it be done right than rushed,” she said.

This type of ordinance has been passed in other areas of the state. Mecklenburg County passed a non-discrimination resolution last week, and several states have passed non-discrimination laws.

The city of Charlotte is also working on a non-discrimination ordinance.