FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP) — Opponents of a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Ark., heard Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein underscore the cause of religious liberty during an Aug. 11 rally at University Baptist Church.
Leaders of Protect Fayetteville (www.protectfayetteville.com) who sponsored the rally say Ordinance 5781 would infringe on First Amendment religious freedoms. Proponents, meanwhile, say it would protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community from being denied service, housing or employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposed ordinance is slated for a vote Sept. 8 in the city of 80,000 people where the University of Arkansas is located.
The Kleins, owners of the Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes who face a $135,000 fine for discrimination after refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding, addressed the rally’s 200-plus attendees.
The proposed ordinance “leaves the door wide open to force people to adhere to something they don’t want to adhere to,” Aaron Klein said in an interview with KNWA-TV. (For Baptist Press’ latest report on the Kleins’ case, click here.)
Protect Fayetteville warns on one of its websites (www.repeal119.com): “Under this ordinance, any baker, florist or photographer, event planner, printer, etc. who has a deeply held religious objection to forced participation in same-sex weddings could face prosecution if they decline to photograph, decorate a cake or provide a floral arrangement for a same-sex ceremony, reception or event.” The organization adds: “This includes forcing ministers to perform same-sex weddings.”
Bill Collins, a Fayetteville-area business owner who attended the Aug. 11 rally at University Baptist, told another local TV station, KFSM, he believes the proposed ordinance may affect fellow business owners.
“If things go terribly wrong, you could lose everything,” Collins said. “It is going to change how they do business, how they interact with the public, and it is just going to be one more thing that is going to interfere with their ability to make a profit.”
The Fayetteville City Council voted 6-2 June 16 to pass on to voters Ordinance 5781 extending protection in existing anti-discrimination laws to LGBT citizens and visitors. Critics say the proposed ordinance largely rehashes an earlier anti-discrimination measure, Chapter 119, adopted by the Fayetteville City Council on Aug. 20 of last year but repealed by voters 52 percent to 48 percent on Dec. 9.
Proponents vowed to revisit the issue and put it before voters again.
“It’s not much different than the first one,” Ron Lomax, director of missions for Washington Madison Baptist Association, said in the Arkansas Baptist News on July 16. “It’s worded a little bit different, but the intent is the same. We’ll be encouraging our people to vote it down again.”
While the ordinance exempts churches and religious organizations, Lomax noted: “Christians are not excluded. If you own a bakery or you are a florist … you would still be taken to court or fined for deciding not to do a wedding or something like that. So it doesn’t protect Christians.”
Protect Fayetteville also warns that the proposed ordinance would pose “serious safety concerns for women and children.”
“Ordinance 5781 requires that businesses and ‘non-religious’ organizations must allow males, claiming to be transgender, into all accommodations of the female sex, including bathrooms, changing areas, showers and overnight shelter areas such as in women’s shelters and youth camps,” the organization contends. “A business owner, employee or organizational member who interferes with the so-called ‘right’ of a man to use female facilities can find himself or herself subject to criminal prosecution.”
If the ordinance passes, the Fayetteville City Council can “amend it and take away the exemptions, increase punishments, and expand their ‘so-called’ definition of sexual orientation,” Protect Fayetteville warns.
The proposed ordinance also will create a seven-member Civil Rights Commission to enforce the measure with the assistance of Fayetteville’s city attorney.
Violating the law would result in a $100 fine for a first offense, according to language in Ordinance 5781, which does not specify the amount of fines for additional offenses. The text of the proposed ordinance can be accessed at http://www.fayetteville-ar.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/6529.