Screenshot / KNWA
Things are heating up in the weeks leading to the Sept. 8 civil rights special election in Fayetteville.
A “rally against religious persecution” was held Tuesday at University Baptist Church to urge residents to vote against the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance.
The event, organized by a group called Protect Fayetteville, featured speakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of an Oregon bakery called Sweet Cakes by Melissa.
The Kleins refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple in January 2013, an act that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries said is a violation of the Oregon Equality Act of 2007. The bureau later ruled that the bakery should pay the couple $135,000 in damages for violating their civil rights and to compensate for the couple’s emotional suffering.
Tuesday’s event was promoted on the Protect Fayetteville Facebook page, and by Fayetteville Alderman John La Tour during the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.
During the announcements portion of the meeting La Tour told the audience that the Oregon couple would be speaking and invited residents to the rally.
“For those people who want to hear that perspective, I encourage you to attend,” said La Tour.
Several supporters of the ordinance showed up to the rally, but were asked to leave after being interviewed by KNWA anchor Connie Gonzalez.
“We were hoping we could come and listen and at least get some insight to the opposition’s perspective,” said Danielle Weatherby, an assistant law professor at the University of Arkansas who also serves as an officer of the For Fayetteville campaign group.
According to a video (Warning: Contains language that may be upsetting) uploaded by For Fayetteville, Weatherby was confronted by Michael Collins, a vocal opponent of the civil rights ordinance. Collins said the For Fayetteville supporters were not invited into the church and that they were trespassing by attending the rally.
“Isn’t this a place of worship that is open to all?” Weatherby asked Collins.
Collins said “not tonight” and called the event “a private engagement.”
Weatherby and the other ordinance supporters were asked to leave and were eventually escorted from the church by the Fayetteville Police Department.
The supporters later criticized the rally organizers for hosting the Kleins.
“I think it’s important that, rather than listening to stories from Oregon bakers shipped in from out of state, we listen to our local businesses,” Kyle Smith, For Fayetteville president, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
As of Tuesday, representatives from more than 400 businesses in Fayetteville had signed cards announcing their support of the passage of the civil rights ordinance.
About the ordinance
The new ordinance was approved by aldermen on June 16. As part of that approval, the ordinance will not go into effect unless voters approve the measure in a special election to be held Sept. 8.
If passed, the new law will prohibit business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will also provide protections for use of public accommodations, including restrooms.
Churches, religious schools and daycare facilities, and religious organizations of any kind would be exempt from the new law.
Unlike the previous repealed ordinance, the city attorney would not serve as the administrator of complaints. Instead, a Civil Rights Commission would be formed to review and decide complaints of alleged discrimination.
The commission would consist of seven members: two representatives of the business community; two owners or managers of rental property; one representative with experience in human resources or employment law; and two citizens at large, at least one of whom identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Anyone asserting a claim of discrimination would be required to present their claim in writing to the city attorney, who would inform the Civil Rights Commission that a complaint had been received.
Informal and confidential mediation would be attempted by the city before any other enforcement measures could begin. If mediation fails, the commission would schedule a hearing to review the complaint and receive evidence. If the commission determines that discrimination had occurred, the violator would be fined up to $100 for the first offense. Subsequent violations would carry the city’s general penalty which calls for fines of up to $500. A violation would not be considered a misdemeanor or felony.
Early voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 1-4 in the Washington County Clerk’s office at 280 N. College Ave. There will be no early voting on Monday, Sept. 7 due to the Labor Day holiday. Both paper ballots and touch-screen machines will be available for early voters.
Polls will open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on election day Tuesday, Sept. 8. There will be no paper ballots on election day. Unlike previous elections, Fayetteville voters may cast ballots at any of the approved polling sites, regardless of their voting precinct.
The Awakening – 5763 E. Mission Blvd.
Baldwin Church of Christ – 4399 Huntsville Road
Buckner Baptist Church – 748 Wyman Road
Central United Methodist Church – 6 W. Dickson St.
Christ’s Church – 525 W. 15th Street
Christian Life Cathedral – 1285 E. Millsap Road
Covenant Church of Christ – 4511 W. Wedington Dr.
First Assembly – 550 E. 15th St.
First United Presbyterian Church – 695 E. Calvin St.
Genesis Church – 205 W. 6th St.
Mt. Comfort Church of Christ – 3249 Mt. Comfort Road
Sang Avenue Baptist Church – 1425 N. Sang Ave.
Sequoyah Methodist Church – 1910 Old Wire Road
St. John’s Lutheran Church – 2730 E. Township Road
Trinity Fellowship – 1100 Rolling Hills Dr.
Trinity Methodist – 1021 W. Sycamore St.
Yvonne Richardson Center – 240 E. Rock St.
For more information about the special election, visit www.co.washington.ar.us.