FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) -- A day before the start of early voting, the group Protect Fayetteville filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance 5781.
The lawsuit was filed by Story Law Firm Monday (Aug. 31) on behalf of Protect Fayetteville, and Fayetteville residents Paul Sagan, Peter Tonnessen and Paul Phaneuf. In the lawsuit the plaintiffs claim the ordinance violates state law and religious First Amendment freedoms, has a misleading ballot title and was passed without due process, according to a statement from Protect Fayetteville.
Protect Fayetteville opposes the civil rights ordinance, which would extend protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Fayetteville residents and visitors in matters of employment, housing and public accommodations.
The plaintiffs also believe the Fayetteville City Council "overstepped its authority, is recklessly spending taxpayer funds and putting local businesses and the public at risk," according to the statement. The plaintiffs argue the city council ignored the will of the people by voting to put Ordinance 5781 to a special election after Fayetteville residents repealed Ordinance 119 in December 9, 2014. Ordinance 119 was also a civil rights ordinance.
A judge will hear Protect Fayetteville's request for an emergency temporary restraining order at 9 a.m. on Friday (Sept. 4) at the Washington County Courthouse. The restraining order asks a judge to prohibit the special election on Ordinance 5781 scheduled to take place Sept. 8 (and any early voting associated with it) and to order the Washington County Election Commission to remove the ordinance from the ballot.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are: the City of Fayetteville; Washington County; Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan; Fayetteville Aldermen Adella Gray, Sarah Marsh, Mark Kinion, Matthew Petty, Alan Long, Justin Tennant, Martin W. Schoppmeyer Jr. and John La Tour; Washington County Election Commissioners Renee Oelschlaeger, Max Deitchler and Bill Ackerman.
The lawsuit states Ordinance 5781 violates state law because the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, which went into effect in July 2015, forbids counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions of the state to expand civil rights protections beyond those already offered by the federal government.
The lawsuit also claims the city council overstepped its authority when it voted June 16 to put Ordinance 5781 to a special election by violating the rules of suspended readings and counting the mayor as a vote.
According to the lawsuit, holding the special election would cause "immediate irreparable harm" that includes asking Fayetteville residents to vote again on a measure that is nearly identical to Ordinance 119 and unnecessary spending of up to $40,000 on a special election. The lawsuit goes on stating the special election would also violate Arkansas citizens' right to due process and claims the use of the word "uniform" in the name of ordinance is misleading. The plaintiffs claim "it intentionally deprives citizens and other person in Fayetteville of their rights, privileges and immunities by denying them the protected class of 'religion.'"
The lawsuit also claims Ordinance 5781 violates several amendments of the U.S. Constitution including the freedoms of religion and speech and states the defendants' actions amounted to "an illegal exaction of taxpayer funds."
For Fayetteville, a group in favor of the ordinance, released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
"We want to be clear that this election is completely legal and will go forth as planned. We encourage everyone to early vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Friday, Sept. 4 at the courthouse from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. Or you may vote at ANY polling location on Election Day, Sept. 8, from 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM.
"With that being said, Protect Fayetteville’s attempt to halt an election at the eleventh hour is an affront to the democratic process. We say let the people vote! These injunctions are another underhanded attempt to confuse and mislead voters by the Protect Fayetteville campaign. This desperate act is a ploy to suppress voter turnout from a campaign that knows they are going to lose.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit and a waste of taxpayer money. Why does Protect Fayetteville want to deprive the citizens of Fayetteville their constitutional right to vote? We hope the injunctions will be dismissed out of hand by Judge Martin. Protect Fayetteville is standing on shaky legal ground and is grasping at straws.
“It is ironic and telling that Protect Fayetteville is asking their supporters to go out and vote in an election they are trying to overturn. If they believe in the argument put forth in their lawsuit, why are they encouraging their supporters to vote in this election they believe is illegal? It shows they are trying to confuse supporters of #5781 while encouraging their own, because the election results will stand.”