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April 3, 2015

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s Fixes to “Religious Freedom” Laws are Illusory

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s passage of discriminatory “religious freedom” laws was met with national backlash from civil rights groups, the business community, and others.  Under intense public pressure, both state legislatures made “fixes” to these laws, which their respective Governors promptly signed.   But these revisions are illusory and do little to mitigate the harms of these laws.

Neither of the original Arkansas or Indiana measures mentioned sexual orientation or discrimination. Under the guise of religious freedom, however, both allowed businesses and employers to discriminate against the LGBT community, as well as against religious and ethnic minorities, by providing them with a virtually insurmountable religious-based legal defense.Arkansas-StateSeal.svg

Proponents of these laws erroneously claimed that they were modeled on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration (“RFRA”).  That RFRA, which the Anti-Defamation League supported, was much narrower and explicitly designed to protect individuals and faith-based institutions’ religious exercise from government infringement.   It was never meant to apply to for-profit entities or private disputes, or to enable entities to discriminate against individuals in the name of “religious freedom.”

Indiana’s fix to its law prohibits businesses from denying services to customers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  And Arkansas’ revision now tracks the language of RFRA and states that it should be interpreted consistent with the federal law.  While these fixes may make good media sound bites, they are misleading.

The revised Indiana law does not provide statewide civil rights protections for the LGBT community or prevent its use to harm others.  Because the state does not have an inclusive anti-discrimination statute, and because the vast majority of Indiana cities and towns lack local civil rights protections for the LGBT community, businesses and employers remain free to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.   Even with this fix, the Indiana law still provides a powerful religious-based defense to individuals and businesses in civil and criminal actions, and infringes on the rights of others.  For example, a police officer could refuse to protect a casino, liquor store, pharmacy, butcher shop, lending institution, or women’s health clinic.

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The amended Arkansas law is perhaps more disingenuous.  Although it is now consistent with RFRA, the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply disturbing Hobby Lobby decision expands RFRA’s protections to for-profit, closely held corporations (ranging from small businesses to nationwide companies like Hobby Lobby).  And a 1999 federal U.S. Court of Appeals decision applicable to Arkansas ruled that RFRA applies to private disputes.

So a family owned business, large or small, can invoke the new law’s powerful defense in virtually any civil action, including claims of discrimination or wrongful denial of service, employment or housing.  Keep in mind, 96.6% of Arkansas’ employers are small businesses.  Translation: the vast majority of Arkansas’ businesses can use the law to deny services, employment, and housing to the LGBT community and other minorities.  Making matters worse, Arkansas has no state-wide civil rights protections for the LGBT community, and it recently enacted another law barring local governments from providing such protections for their residents.

To truly remedy the harmful effects of their so-called “religious freedom” laws, Arkansas and Indiana must enact statewide anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, insert additional safeguards against use of the laws to harm others, and limit their application to individuals, religious institutions, and religiously-affiliated non-profits against government action that substantially burdens religion.

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October 8, 2014

Gun Range Owner’s Offensive Ban on Muslim Patrons is Unlawful

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Jan Morgan

Citing to public safety concerns stemming from the 9/11 attacks and a recent Oklahoma workplace beheading, Arkansas gun range owner Jan Morgan last week publicly declared her business a “Muslim-Free zone.”  Although this odious and unlawful declaration has been removed from her Facebook page, a message on Morgan’s Twitter account states that the rule still stands.

In a diatribe justifying her decision,  Morgan wrongly claims that Islam is not a religion.   And therefore, she erroneously concludes that Muslims are not entitled to First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.  Morgan also falsely asserts that she has the option to bar Muslim patrons from her gun range.  But this ban blatantly violates the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, which  prohibits  “… any establishment, either licensed of unlicensed, that supplies … services to general public … “ from discriminating against a person “… because of … religion.”

Later admitting that the anti-Muslim ban disregards the law,  Morgan nonetheless declared  that she “will do whatever is necessary to provide a safe environment for my customers, even at the cost of the increased threats and legal problems this decision will likely provoke.”  Although she relies on the Second Amendment to remain in business, Morgan wants to ignore federal and state Equal Protection Clause principles codified in anti-discrimination laws.  Picking and choose among legal protections is simply not an option in our nation of laws, and Morgan would be wise to revoke her offensive ban against Muslim patrons.

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December 16, 2013

Fugitive Alabama White Supremacist Shoots Self As Police Close In

lindsey-scott-carterA fugitive and racist prison gang member from Alabama shot himself in Arkansas after leading police on a lengthy chase.  On December 8, Arkansas state troopers pulled over a vehicle linked to Lindsey Scott Carter, 44, wanted in Alabama on suspicion of murder.  The driver, a female friend of Carter, fled the vehicle, but Carter took the wheel and drove away. 

After a chase that wound through two counties in western Arkansas, troopers used traffic spikes to bring the vehicle to a halt again.  As the officers approached the car, however, they discovered Carter had apparently shot himself to death rather than face capture.

According to local authorities, Carter, from Paint Rock, Alabama, had shot and killed a woman on December 7 in what police believe was some sort of drug-related dispute.  Following the murder, a female friend of Carter (since arrested for hindering prosecution) allegedly provided the vehicle that Carter used to flee with a second female friend.  Authorities have not charged the second friend, the one who fled the vehicle in Arkansas, saying that she had not been aware of Carter’s crimes.

Carter had a previous criminal history and was a member of the Southern Brotherhood, Alabama’s largest white supremacist prison gang.  The Southern Brotherhood, which has a lengthy record of violence and criminal activity, began in 1995 in the Easterling Correctional Facility and subsequently spread to the rest of the state (it also has a presence in several other states).  It also has a biker gang subgroup, the Southern Brotherhood Motorcycle Club.

After Carter’s suicide, other Southern Brotherhood members passed the news of their fellow gang member’s death.  One Southern Brotherhood gang member posted to an on-line social networking website that “we lost a good Bro yesterday…Rest in Peace Scott Carter 14/23.”  The numbers “14/23” constitute a Southern Brotherhood numeric symbol that combines two concepts.  The number 14 is a reference to the so-called 14 Words, a popular white supremacist slogan:  “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”  The number 23 stands for the “23 Precepts,” a list of 23 rules that gang members are required to follow.

Similarly, another gang member posted that “We had a bro pass away yesterday…R.I.P. Scott Carter…14/23 19/2.”  The numbers 19 and 2 are code for the Southern Brotherhood, as S is the 19th letter of the alphabet and B the 2nd letter.

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