By Bob Allen
Voters in Fayetteville, Ark., will vote in a special election Dec. 9 on whether to repeal a civil rights ordinance the City Council approved in August despite opposition from community leaders including a representative of Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd’s Cross Church.
The Fayetteville City Council voted 6-2 on Aug. 6 to enact an ordinance barring “discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status” in to employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Human Rights Campaign, a leading pro-gay group, said the ordinance — the first of its kind in Arkansas — put Fayetteville “at the leading edge of bringing enduring legal protections to its LGBT residents and visitors in the great state of Arkansas.”
Testimony at a marathon 10-hour public hearing that began Aug. 5 and lasted until 3:20 a.m. the next day included comments by Andy Wilson, executive pastor at Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, a multi-campus congregation formerly known as First Baptist Church of Springdale.
Wilson said in an Arkansas Baptist News podcast Sept. 2 the ordinance “infringes on people’s religious liberty” and “hampers local businesses.”
“When you think churches can be prosecuted for employment decisions, or ministers can be prosecuted personally, or private schools can be prosecuted for employment decisions, or religious business people can be prosecuted, it is time to wake up, to understand this, and then let’s do something about it,” Wilson said.
Larry Page of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, said despite civil rights language in the ordinance “its actual purpose is to advance the homosexual agenda.”
Page said the “sticky wicket” for him is the “class of people based on their gender identity, which simply means as a male, I can say today that I feel like a female, and that would entitle me under this ordinance to use women’s facilities — restrooms, dressing rooms and such — in public places.”
Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in comments to Baptist Press that the ordinance is “one of the most broadly written and troubling non-discrimination bills I’ve ever seen, stipulating religious exemptions only for the most narrow of circumstances, which will endanger untold numbers of men and women seeking to live out their Gospel faith.”
The ordinance says churches and other religious institutions can discriminate in hiring only for “non-secular positions.”
Private business owners cannot “deny, directly or indirectly, any person the full enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any business establishment or place of public accommodation, unless required by state or federal law.”
Page said that opens the door for conflicts like those in other states where Christian bakers and photographers were required by law to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of their religious convictions.
“The homosexual agenda has succeeded in virtually every quarter,” Page said. “The only real entity left that is putting up any opposition is the church.”
“The church is really the last line of defense for traditional marriage, and I can assure you the Human Rights Campaign and like organizations are going to come after churches guns blazing,” Page said.
High-profile opponents to the ordinance include Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of 19 Kids and Counting, who are not from Fayetteville but recently gave money to a candidate who failed in his effort to unseat an incumbent member of the city council.
In August Michelle Duggar narrated a robocall urging the council to reject the measure.
“I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls,” Duggar said. “I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space.”