The Jacksonville, FL Human Rights Commission has a mission of ensuring “that all Jacksonville residents enjoy a community free of discriminatory practices.” Ironically, in the past month that city council members have been reviewing the mayor’s nominees for the commission, a local lawmaker has been accused of discriminating against these prospective members.
Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton (R) recommended two people for the commission: University of North Florida professor and Fulbright scholar Parvez Ahmed and Florida Coastal School of Law professor Susan Harthill. The controversy arose when Council Member Clay Yarborough decided to ask them “about gay marriage, God, Islam and prayer in public places” — even though the questions had little to do with what Peyton and Harthill would be doing on the commission. Yarborough said that although he had never asked these questions of nominees before, he now felt they were “necessary to better know the people applying for this board.” The Florida Times-Union reports on the litmus test Yarborough put the nominees through:
Yarborough asked Ahmed only whether he believed same-sex marriage should be permitted in Florida and to explain why he stopped serving on the boards of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida and the ACLU of Florida in 2007. [...]
Yarborough said that if Ahmed’s responses were different he would have been concerned. He said that courts have upheld the use of the phrases “Under God” and “In God We Trust” so he would have not liked to hear that a nominee was in disagreement.
He said that if gay marriage became a topic before the Human Rights Commission, he would want to know whether any potential member supported changing state law to legalize gay unions. “It would concern me if someone of that belief was on that board if they could address that issue,” he said.
What has most troubled observers of this debate is that Yarborough has publicly admitted that he is biased against Muslims and LGBT individuals. In an interview with the Times-Union, Yarborough admitted that he doesn’t really think those groups of people should be allowed to hold public office:
Just in general, do you believe Muslims should be able to hold any public office in Florida?
“I don’t know.”
Do you think homosexuals should be able to hold a public office in Florida
“I would prefer they did not.”
Yarborough also implied that he supports allowing only Christian prayers in public buildings because the “scripture teaches that unless one prays in the name of Jesus Christ, and since he is our only way to the Father, that that is how one should pray. And that is what I believe.”
Yarborough blocked Harthill, who refused to answer his questions. Yarborough said that he “didn’t have enough information about her to know whether she was a good fit.” Ahmed told Yarborough that while he was “respectful” of his questions, he didn’t “see their relevance to my nomination” — a position that the mayor’s spokesperson agreed with. “One cannot wonder how odd is it that my religion has become an issue in my nomination,” Ahmed said. Yarborough voted in favor of confirming Ahmed two weeks ago, but said this week that he has changed his mind. (HT: The Bilerico Project)