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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fearing Trump campaign promise, Spokane City Council votes 7-0 against religious registry

The Spokane City Council chambers is filled to near capacity on January 30, 2017 as the council prepared to discuss an ordinance that would prevent city employees from complying with federal orders to create a registry of citizens based on religious beliefs. (Kip Hill / The Spokesman-Review)

An impassioned crowd that spilled out of the City Council chambers Monday night mostly implored council members to pass an ordinance that would prohibit Spokane employees from assisting in the creation of a registry based on religious preference.

And the Spokane City Council did just that – unanimously. To the sound of cheers and applause, the council voted 7-0 to approve an ordinance that outlaws any city employee from participating in the development of “a program that requires, or has the effect of requiring, persons to register on the basis of religious affiliation, belief, or conduct.”

“We have many refugees, and people of different faiths, who live in our community, and they are scared,” City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

Opponents accused Stuckart of grandstanding for political purposes and making a boogeyman out of President Donald Trump.

A majority of the dozens of attendees stood, some with their fists in the air, when the ordinance was read just before 9 p.m. Monday. Some, holding signs reading “Love Trumps Hate” and “First they came for the Muslims … Resist,” stood outside the council chambers for hours.

The Rev. Todd Ekloff, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“My religion allows me to embrace the wisdom of all faiths, including Islam, and it requires me to embrace all who are oppressed, especially when oppressed because of religion,” Ekloff said.

Though Trump proposed the creation of a registry for Muslims during his campaign, a specific proposal has not been included in a flurry of executive actions the president has taken since assuming office earlier this month. Opponents of the ordinance accused the City Council, and Stuckart personally, of demonizing the new president.

“We’ve heard of fake news, this is fake council business,” said Stephanie Cates, Spokane County Republican Party chairwoman. Cates accused Stuckart of using his platform to “grab headlines” in his stated run against U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for her seat in Congress in 2018.

Stuckart waited until Cates was finished speaking, then admonished her for making “personal attacks and insinuations.”

Whether Trump makes good on his campaign pledge to require a registry, Phil Tyler, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, said Spokane residents needed to take ownership of the country’s political discourse.

“We must realize that we made this possible in the first place, by normalizing hate,” Tyler said.

City Councilman Mike Fagan, often the counterpoint to the City Council’s progressive majority, voted against putting the ordinance on Monday night’s agenda, but later voted for it, saying he is “cautiously compassionate.”