First Amendment Squealing in Fayetteville
And rightly so. This past week, Fayetteville’s City Council voted unanimously to approve a second reading of its proposal to add a new Civil Rights Administrator position while also banning certain actions that it deems discriminatory.
Specifically, Fayetteville’s proposed ordinance creates a new (unelected) Civil Rights Administrator, who has the city’s police powers to ensure “all persons within the city have equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations.”
The ordinance requires only a complaint from the aggrieved individual for the unelected Civil Rights Administrator to bring legal action — in opposition to the accepted standard of “innocent until proven guilty.” The concern is the ordinance puts the accused in the position of proving innocence, rather than the complainant proving guilt — the very fact the complaint is made apparently establishes “guilt.”
Local citizens crowded the Council meeting, which was interrupted by passionate outcries about First Amendment and freedom of religion rights amid comments by one of the aldermen. By far the majority of attendees were against the actions being taken by the Fayetteville City Council.
One part that drew heavy opposition states “it shall be unlawful for business establishments to post or print materials which indicate a person’s patronage of or presence at the business is unwelcome or undesirable.” (The Council voted unanimously to omit this language after City Attorney Kit Williams said it could be a restraint against First Amendment rights.)
Citizens were outraged that the ordinance says any building or facility, including places of worship, that is open to the public must also make their facilities and sanctuaries available to anyone who asks, including groups or events whose interests and beliefs do not align with those facilities or places of worship.
Anti-LGBT language sparked more howls. Language in the ordinance adds to the more standard anti-discriminatory clauses found elsewhere, in that it makes illegal discrimination based on any perceived gender identity, gender expression, familial status, and marital status.
Together with the ordinance’s “guilty when accused” language, citizens say they feel threatened because the ordinance would seemingly result in legal action against a facility or place of worship simply because someone “feels” they’ve been wronged (that “perceived” clause) in some manner.
We agree. Even Assistant City Attorney Blake Pennington opined there “is no specific Arkansas statute expressly authorizing a municipality to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance.” Fayetteville cannot simply write its version of our First Amendment.
All the same, the Fayetteville City Council presses on, after its unanimous vote this past Tuesday, to a final reading of this monstrosity. How long before city leaders in Conway and Jonesboro follow suit?