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Group: Anti-discrimination policy could discriminate against Christian beliefs

Group: Anti-discrimination policy could discriminate against Christian beliefs

Opposition: Unanimously approved ordinance designed to ensure equality could allow men in women's bathrooms

February 24th, 2016 by Emily Sanders in Texarkana News

Attorney Travis Story goes over a petition Tuesday night, Feb. 23, 2016 with former Texarkana, Ark., Mayor Wayne Smith and others challenging the city of Texarkana, Ark., anti-discrimination policy at a meeting held at the Omega Building in downtown Texarkana.

Photo by Evan Lewis /Texarkana Gazette.

A group of Texarkana, Ark., residents rallied Tuesday night against an anti-discrimination ordinance unanimously approved by the Arkansas-side Board of Directors last month, saying the policy could discriminate against Christians.

Texarkana, Ark., anti-discrimination ordinance.

Editor's Note: This is the entire text of an anti-discriminiation ordinance approved at the Texarkana, Ark., Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 19, 2016.

Emergency clause: Requested to ensure that the City does not discriminate in the hiring of individuals to work for the City as employees and to assure that the City does not indirectly discriminate in the hiring of individuals to work on City contracts.

ORDINANCE NO. ___M-130____

AN ORDINANCE ESTABLISHING AN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION POLICY FOR THE CITY OF TEXARKANA, ARKANSAS; DECLARING AN EMERGENCY; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES

WHEREAS, it is hereby determined to be the policy of the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, not to discriminate in its employment and personnel practices because of a person's race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation; and

WHEREAS, the City seeks to insure that its employees with responsibility for contracting with vendors do not discriminate against vendors because of the race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation of the vendor's owners; and

WHEREAS, the City seeks to insure that its employees, in providing City services to the public and public accommodations, do not discriminate against because of the race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation; and

WHEREAS, the City seeks to encourage businesses and firms it does business with to adopt employment practices and to make sales and provide services to the public without discrimination.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED by the Board of Directors of the City of Texarkana, Arkansas:

Section 1. The City of Texarkana, Arkansas, shall not discriminate against vendors because of the race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation of the vendor's owners. All City departments, divisions, commissions and offices that contract with vendors shall adopt a written policy that reflects such non-discrimination in contracting.

Section 2. Employees of the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, in providing City services to the public shall not discriminate because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation. All City departments, divisions, commissions and offices shall adopt a written policy that reflects such non-discrimination in providing City services.

Section 3. All contracts hereafter entered into by the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, providing goods and services to the City shall contain a clause stating that the contracting party shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or genetic information. All bid and proposal requests for such contracts from the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, shall hereafter include notification of such a clause and the requirements that it will be agreed to and followed.

Section 4. In the event any title, section, paragraph, item, sentence, clause, phrase or word of this ordinance is declared or adjudged to be invalid or unconstitutional, such declaration or adjudication shall not affect the remaining portions of the ordinance which shall remain in full force and effect as if the portion so declared or adjudged invalid or unconstitutional were not originally a part of this ordinance.

Section 5. It is important that the City not discriminate in the hiring of individuals to work for the City as employees, and to assure that it does not indirectly discriminate in the hiring of individuals to work on City contracts; and, further, to assure, to the extent possible, that no such discrimination exists is essential to the public health, safety and welfare; an emergency is, therefore, declared to exist and this ordinance shall be in full force and effect from and after the date of its passage.

PASSED AND APPROVED this 19th day of January, 2016.

The crowd of about 35, including an Arkansas attorney, met downtown to discuss efforts to dispute Ordinance No. M-130 and garner 1,109 signatures.

The ordinance states that the city will not discriminate in its employment and personnel practices because of a person's race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation.

The ordinance also states its intent to ensure that city employees that have the responsibility of contracting with vendors—as well as employees responsible for providing city services to the public and public accommodations—do not discriminate because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation of the vendor's owners.

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"The city seeks to encourage businesses and firms it does business with to adopt employment practices and to make sales and provide services to the public without discrimination," the ordinance states.

Arkansas-side Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell said Tuesday the group has a right to organize and voice their opinion but that the passing of the ordinance was meant to help bring about more economic development.

"We did not single out any one group," Penney-Bell said. "These big industries that come into town, a lot of them work under federal guidelines. They want that anti-discrimination clause in order to do business with our city."

During the January meeting, Arkansas-side citizens Richard Wagnon and Sherry Potts spoke out in opposition of the ordinance, while Dwayne Hall spoke in favor of its passing.

Wagnon said that he is standing up against the potential for Christians being discriminated against because of the ordinance.

Wagnon said if the city can pass an ordinance for "potential" or "perceived" discrimination toward certain special groups, then citizens are within their rights to oppose the ordinance because of the potential discriminatory actions the ordinance might bring against Christians.

"They are going to tell you all kinds of lies. They are going to tell you things like 'you're a homophobic,'" Wagnon said. "They are going to label you all kinds of things. At some point we have to have some level of morality that we as a society can depend on and everybody be treated equal.

"This (ordinance) will lead to potential discrimination towards me, as a Christian, and my religious beliefs. And I want to take a stand on that. And yet you're saying that you need protection from some perceived discrimination that I haven't even heard of. Ultimately this is all going to boil down to the citizens' vote." 

Wagnon's wife, Sheila Wagnon, introduced Arkansas Attorney Travis Story, who has been involved in contesting similar ordinances in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Hot Springs, Eureka Springs and other cities throughout the state.

Story said two special classes added within the Arkansas-side ordinance are sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The purpose of this meeting is really hopefully to get you to become canvassers," Story said. "To bring you up to where we are. The City Council of Texarkana, Ark., said they have passed an ordinance, Ordinance M-130, which effectively adds new special classes to the discrimination statues which are already in place federally and in Arkansas.

"These two protected classes as the city of Texarkana is trying to add really will effect every person in Texarkana, USA. If any business wants to do business with the city, they are going to have to agree to follow these same anti-discrimination—as its title—practices, meaning that they are going to have to make special accommodations for sexual orientation and gender identity individuals.

According to Story, this could mean a $500 per day penalty for any business affiliated with the city that refuses to put in such a practice as letting a biological male use a restroom designated for females.

"Any facility that is a public accommodation that does business with the city, it specifically means they are going to have to allow things like someone who claims the gender of a female, although is male in every other respect they are going to have to allow them into their restrooms," he said. "We are going to have to allow them into (the ladies's) restroom."

Story went on to say the City Council took the "extraordinary step" of passing the ordinance in one night.

"So normally you have three readings of an ordinance. However, they rushed this through before anybody could figure out what was going on. Before you really had an opportunity to speak. So your city government doesn't really care what you think," he said.

Story said the Arkansas Constitution reserves the right for residents to fight the passing of an ordinance. In this case, the referendum process requires a minimum of 1,109 valid signatures of registered voters living within the city limits of Texarkana, Ark., he added.

Those canvassing don't have to live within the city limits, but must be 18 or older. 

Potts said that Sheila Wagnon, who had originally spoken out against the ordinance in January, has taken the job of coordinating the petition drive and will be at the Omega building on Saturday morning to assign canvassing areas. Those who ask to canvass their own areas can also do so. 

"That ordinance should not have passed that night," Potts said. "There is an evil force behind this; I don't know how they got (Councilman) Tim Johnson behind this or what his motive is. They snuck this in on us."

Richard Wagnon said anyone with questions about the petitioning process, or interested in joining the canvassing for signatures, can contact the Omega Professional Building at 870-330-0400.

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