Presbytery of Arkansas opposes bills aimed at gay discrimination | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 23, 2015

Presbytery of Arkansas opposes bills aimed at gay discrimination

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 7:03 AM

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This was mentioned by my former pastor David Dyer on an open line yesterday, but bears repeating:

The Presbytery of Arkansas, the governing body for 87 Presbyterian churches in the northern two-thirds of Arkansas, met Saturday at Clarksville and adopted a resolution urging Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto SB 202, which is aimed at preventing local government from passing anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people.  The Presbytery also expressed its opposition to a pending House bill that, in the name of "conscience," would protect those who discriminate against gay people.

Under such laws, you could refuse any service — medicine, food, clothing, job, shelter — to a gay person and be protected if you claimed a religious objection. The resolution notes that the resolution could give protection to domestic abuse

The full resolution is on the jump, but the ringing language follows that outlined by a former Republican attorney general of Georgia, once a foe of equal rights for gay people, whose made similar objections to similar legislation in Georgia.

UPDATE: The Episcopal Convention of Arkansas also voted opposition to the bills Feb. 14. See what they wrote on the jump as well.

Today is the governor's last chance to stand tall for equality. Said the Presbytery resolution, in part:

HB 1228 also encourages discrimination: doctors, nurses and emergency personnel could refuse to provide care and services, citing “sincerely held religious belief.” This bill is so broadly drafted that landlords, merchants, owners of public accommodations – indeed anyone could discriminate against anyone whose situation in life remains unprotected by current civil rights legislation. In short, HB 1228 jeopardizes the very fabric of our free and open American society.

Likewise SB202 seeks to prevent local governments from extending greater protection against discrimination than allowed by the state of Arkansas. Clearly the intent is to preclude communities from enacting measures like those recently passed in Fayetteville and Eureka Springs protecting the LGBT community, as well as similar measures being contemplated in Little Rock.

As Christians we know the dangers of encroaching theocracy and the historic damage of individuals acting against the common good in the name of "sincerely held religious belief". We must not legally empower dangerous rhetoric into action so that some religiously minded individuals might feel justified in their treatment of homosexuals and others who differ from themselves.

The full resolution follows. Frank LeBlanc, pastor at Westover Hills, tells me the resolution was adopted on a voice vote without voiced opposition. The text:


Whereas Jesus instructs his disciples to 'love your neighbor as yourself'; and,

Whereas the Presbytery of Arkansas respects the dignity of every human being; and,

Whereas the Presbytery of Arkansas has previously voiced its opposition to the destruction or denial of civil rights based on any prejudice, whether it be based on race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender or sexuality, and

Whereas we believe religion must never be invoked so as to cloak discrimination;


BE IT RESOLVED

that the Presbytery of Arkansas, at its 128th Stated Meeting, declares its opposition to Arkansas House Bill 1228, allowing discrimination based on religious conviction, particularly intended to target gay, lesbian, and transgender people as well as others; and against Senate Bill 202, barring localities from passing anti-discrimination laws. We ask the Governor to use his power to veto this legislation.

Rationale:

As Presbyterians we live by the truth that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” But HB 1228, the so called “Conscience Protection Act”, however well-intentioned, protects not freedom of conscience (already enshrined in the constitutions of the United States and the state of Arkansas) but license to violate laws duly enacted for the common good. HB 1228 erodes public safety: it would, for example, create a defense of “sincerely held religious belief” to violations of domestic violence laws, endangering vulnerable spouses and children.

HB 1228 also encourages discrimination: doctors, nurses and emergency personnel could refuse to provide care and services, citing “sincerely held religious belief.” This bill is so broadly drafted that landlords, merchants, owners of public accommodations – indeed anyone could discriminate against anyone whose situation in life remains unprotected by current civil rights legislation. In short, HB 1228 jeopardizes the very fabric of our free and open American society.

Likewise SB202 seeks to prevent local governments from extending greater protection against discrimination than allowed by the state of Arkansas. Clearly the intent is to preclude communities from enacting measures like those recently passed in Fayetteville and Eureka Springs protecting the LGBT community, as well as similar measures being contemplated in Little Rock.

As Christians we know the dangers of encroaching theocracy and the historic damage of individuals acting against the common good in the name of "sincerely held religious belief". We must not legally empower dangerous rhetoric into action so that some religiously minded individuals might feel justified in their treatment of homosexuals and others who differ from themselves.

Our own history reminds us of the dangers of discrimination shrouded in religious conviction. In the 1950's and 1960's Arkansas Presbyterians stood against the winds of the age and opposed the unholy alliance of politics and theology that was Jim Crow.

King George III called the revolution fought to preserve the rights and dignity of every person a "Presbyterian war." Our heritage calls us, and our faith demands of us nothing less today.

I received the following regarding the Episcopal Convention:

The 143rd annual convention of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas, held Saturday, Feb. 14. in Little Rock, passed “A Resolution on the Rights and Dignity of Every Human Being,” which reads as follows:

"Whereas Jesus instructs his disciples to 'love your neighbor as yourself'; and,

"Whereas the Episcopal Church respects the dignity of every human being; and,

"Whereas the Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield, Bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas has voiced his opposition to cloaking the desire to discriminate in the language of religion,

BE IT RESOLVED that the 143rd Convention of the Diocese of Arkansas supports the Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield in his position and declares its opposition to Arkansas House Bill 1228, allowing discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people if that discrimination is based on religious conviction; and against Senate Bill 202, barring localities from passing anti-discrimination laws."

The Episcopal Church in Arkansas comprises more than 13,800 members from across the state.

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