News & Features

Whitefish Council Considers Nondiscrimination Proposal

City likely to pass good faith resolution declaring support for diversity

Following the outcry of Whitefish residents over the local presence of a prominent white nationalist, the city council on Dec. 1 was poised to adopt a good faith resolution declaring its support for diversity.

The council did not go so far as to adopt a “no-hate” or nondiscrimination ordinance, though council members discussed crafting such a measure in the near future.

According to the proposed resolution: “The Whitefish City Council declares its support of Whitefish community values that recognize and celebrate the dignity, diversity, and inclusion of all of its inhabitants and visitors, and protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to exercise their civil rights, including the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from discrimination.”

It continues: “Nothing in this Resolution is intended to alter or abridge other rights, protections, or privileges secured by state or federal law, including state and federal constitutional protections of freedom of speech, assembly, and exercise of religion.”

The resolution comes on the heels of public testimony delivered during the council’s Nov. 17 meeting, when dozens of Whitefish residents spoke out, passionately urging council members to create a “no-hate” ordinance or other anti-discrimination legislation.

The residents voiced opposition to the local presence of Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who has headquartered his think-tank the National Policy Institute in Whitefish.

Many of the residents held signs that read “Love Lives Here,” which refers to a local affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network that has been at the helm of efforts to adopt a measure barring Richard Spencer and the not-for-profit National Policy Institute from conducting business in Whitefish.

While such an ordinance is likely to infringe on constitutional rights to free speech, the council did hold a discussion on the possibility of adopting a nondiscrimination ordinance in the next month.

Other cities have adopted such ordinances to protect citizens from discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Missoula adopted its nondiscrimination law in 2010, with Helena adopting a similar ordinance in 2012. Butte adopted a nondiscrimination measure in February, and Bozeman adopted one in June that is being challenged in a lawsuit against the city.

The city of Dillon voted down a nondiscrimination ordinance in September, calling it an overreach of the city’s authority, while Billings rejected a nondiscrimination measure in August.

Love Lives Here, the local affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network, issued a statement thanking the council “for its support and swift action,” and said the group intends to continue to advocate for laws to ensure that all citizens are protected from intolerance and discrimination.