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Plano's Equal Rights Battle Could Force Legal Challenges

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PLANO  (CBSDFW.COM) - Plano is preparing for what could turn into an expensive legal battle pitting religious freedom against equal rights in the workplace.

"This ordinance needs to be repealed. If it's not repealed, then we'll go to the courts, and we'll spend and cause the city to incur tens of thousands of dollars," The Liberty Institute's Jeff Mateer said at a Wednesday news conference.

Opponents of the new law have clearly indicated they are more than willing to make the city pay in an attempt to defend its Equal Rights Ordinance.

January 20 is the deadline for opponents to turn in just over 3800 signatures to try to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, but what was clear Thursday, that's just the beginning.

The Liberty Institute says there is no price too big to put on religious freedom, and Mateer says he's willing to pay it, promising an expensive court battle if Plano does not repeal the ERO even if it costs taxpayers some of their money.

"If they don't, we'll have no other alternative," Mateer said, "We'll have to proceed, and the costs are the costs."
The battle over Plano's Equal Rights Ordinance has a very clear precedent in Houston, where a similar movement failed to overturn that city's law. And that Houston experience left it's mark on Mateer. When that city threw out most of the signatures that were collected, opponents of the Houston ordinance sued, and the battle took a controversial turn.

"They sought to obtain pastors' sermons in defending an unlawful and unconstitutional ordinance. That very exact same thing could happen here in Plano," Mateer warned.

Challenges could come in the form of questioning the voter registration of those who sign the petition, but experts say a church does have a right to engage in the political process.

"From a legal and tax-regulatory standpoint, they are completely free to do that. Now if they start to advocate the defeat of any Plano elected official, if they say, you need to vote against the mayor because he supported this, that's a different story," said SMU political science professor, Dr. Matthew Wilson.

Meanwhile Plano citizens on both sides of the issue don't like the idea of a long drawn-out court battle - particularly an expensive one.

"It's got to be hard. It's got to be hard on our pastors and the staff of our churches," said Plano's Patsy Bolin, who supports the repeal.

"I don't understand spending time and money to prevent people that we live with, whom we work with, that pay taxes, contribute to the community from having the same rights that everybody else does," said Plano's David Lively who supports the ERO.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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