Tag Archives: Arkansas

A new role for Frank Lloyd Wright home that survived Sandy

A Frank Lloyd Wright house that was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey is high and dry in Arkansas. And it’s getting thousands of visitors as part of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The Bachman-Wilson House, originally located in Millstone, New Jersey, was one of Wright’s famed Usonian homes. The architect created these small, simple structures for middle-class Americans, and about 60 were built.

The Crystal Bridges Museum had the home moved to Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was aligned on the same axis Wright used when laying out the building in 1954.

More than 80,000 people have toured the Bachman-Wilson House in the past year. The home is presented as a retreat — a place to get away from it all without having to get away.

“You’re completely immersed in your natural environment,” said Dylan Turk, a curatorial assistant at Crystal Bridges. “Wright’s using materials that are American and comfortable — woods and natural materials — because he feels that is more connectible than steel, which is what other architects were using at that time.”

Wright desired an American identity among everyday homes and labeled his style “Usonian,” for the “United States of North America.” He wanted them to be affordable, and charged just $400 for the plans for the Bachman-Wilson House. The house cost about $30,000 to build.

Wright actually never visited a Usonian home, Turk said. He was busy working on the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, when the Bachman-Wilson House was built.

“Wright valued everything he designed, but he was also working on, at the time, The Guggenheim, which he thought would be his shining moment as an architect. He may have been a little preoccupied,” Turk said.

While it wasn’t part of the Crystal Bridges’ initial plan, the Wright-designed home fits in with the museum’s concentration on art, architecture and nature, Turk said. Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie sited the museum above Town Branch Creek. The Bachman-Wilson House overlooks Crystal Spring, a tributary well out of the flood plain.

Students from the University of Arkansas’ school of architecture, which is named after Wright protege Fay Jones, designed a welcome pavilion nearby. Wright, Jones and Safdie each won the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal.

“I wish I could have said I initiated the action to get the house, but I didn’t,” Safdie said. While he hasn’t yet seen the Bachman-Wilson House in Arkansas, he said he was thrilled to hear about the acquisition and noted that he, Jones and Wright each now have an influence on the museum’s grounds.

“The trilogy has pleased me,” he said.

Before the house opened on a recent chilly morning, Turk sat down on the living room’s low-slung bench, which abuts a cinder block wall designed as a barrier for the world outside. Across the room is a wall of glass, broken up by mahogany door frames and window frames cut in the shape of a maple tree’s winged seed pod. The room faces southwest to catch the afternoon sun.

“He wanted you to be as close to the ground as you possibly could be because he thought that grounded you,” Turk said. “You’re looking up. You can see the tops of the trees through the clerestory windows.”

A rust-colored floor, heated from beneath, extends beyond the glass.

“He pioneered radiant heat in the United States. If you are outside on a cool night, you can feel your house,” Turk said. “He wanted you to feel your house in as many ways as you possibly could.”

The Bachman-Wilson House flooded a number of times in New Jersey, most recently when Sandy hit in 2012. When its owners considered moving it to preserve it, Crystal Bridges said it would fit in with its mission.

“Art is not just a painting that hangs on the wall,” Turk said. “If you want to be creative, it doesn’t have to be limited to a canvas.

“This is familiar. It’s a house,” he said. “Most people live in a house, so it allows us to open up this space for people to come in and go, ‘Huh, my house doesn’t look like this. Why?’ or ‘I have this in my house. Why do I have this in my house?””

If You Go…

CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART: Located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free general admission includes Wright house.


First shelter for male domestic violence victims draws attention

As the nation’s first — and only — registered shelter for male domestic violence victims in the nation, The Taylor House near Batesville, Arkansas, is capturing  national attention.  A crew is coming from California  to film a documentary on male victims just weeks before the safe haven celebrates its first anniversary on Sept. 30.

While men are less likely to seek help after being abused — and those who do face additional stigma — the problem of domestic violence is pervasive and genderless, according to shelter manager Bill Miller.


Such violence is often psychological. “It’s about power and control, as opposed to just physical,” Miller said. According to him, the word “battered” is no longer used in describing victims, because “that implies you have to have bruises. You don’t.”

Miller said there’s less research about male victims, and violence perpetrated by women is less recognized. If police are called to a domestic violence report, the man is more likely to be arrested, no matter who’s the aggressor, Miller said.

Furthermore, abuse is not just limited to couples and intimate relationships. “State law also recognizes family and household members, roommates. Sometimes those are harder to leave.”

“Some of the barriers are different,” said, Patty Duncan, director of Family Violence Prevention, which operates The Taylor House for men and Safe Haven for women.

“We’re dealing with the same dynamics as female, but we also have to deal with stereotypes,” she said.

Duncan said when it comes to domestic violence, society typically thinks of women — not men. So FVP is fortunate that Victims of Crime Acts funded approximately 90 percent of the shelter’s operation for its first two years. The rest of the funds come from FVP’s general funds and its resale shop, Fresh Start.

“As the first registered men’s shelter in the nation, you’ve got to take a giant leap of faith,” Miller said.

Like Safe Haven, The Taylor House is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.

The men’s shelter can currently host nine men. The most it had housed overnight was four.

Since opening 10 ½ months ago, the shelter has housed 18 male domestic violence victims. Duncan and Miller feel confident they will meet the federal funding goal of 20 men in the first year of operation.

Miller’s background might appear unusual for a shelter manager. He’s a former alcohol and drug abuse counselor and holds a master’s degree in engineering. He used to be a traveling standup comedian based in Houston. He attended the Crime Victim Academy.

Thus, he said, he’s able to “bring so many different aspects from society” to the program.

The shelter staffs six people (four full-time and two part-time).

After they arrive at the shelter, the victims of male domestic violence meet with a case manager to figure out short- and long-term goals, what benefits they may be entitled to, how to go about getting a job, etc.

Miller said the men so far have ranged in age from 18 to 67. He said the shelter is LGBT-friendly.

The shelter provides food, hygiene products and cleaning items. If the men need clothing, they turn to the resale shop.

The Taylor House does not screen for drugs. “If they enter the program and have drugs or alcohol we work with the sheriff’s office to dispose of them,” Duncan said. But while it doesn’t screen, it does not advocate drug use either. If a man goes to an appointment, for instance, and brings back drugs or alcohol, “odds are you’ll be asked to leave,” she continued.

Miller said he is not there to test the men for drugs or alcohol. “I’m an advocate to get them to a safe place.”

“We want to empower them,” Duncan said. “We let the clients make their case plan. If we don’t, we’re not empowering them, we’re controlling them.”

The abuse doesn’t have to be going on right now for a man to call the hotline, Miller said. Sometimes “they haven’t dealt with abuse as a child — they’ve just not been able to face that it ever happened. Maybe they don’t need emergency shelter, they just need help to process.”

Those men are welcome to call the hotline, too, Miller said, even if they’re unsure whether they should be calling.

FVP offers a weekly community support group.

The Taylor House is designed to be a 30-day shelter, but Miller and Duncan said that’s not always feasible.

“It’s unrealistic to think they can find employment and housing in 30 days,” Duncan said, noting that on average it takes about $1,500 to set up a one-bedroom apartment with rent, utilities, etc.

The men take classes to learn things like coping skills, stress and anger management, budgeting money, grocery shopping, paying bills, managing medicine and doctor appointments, and how to live independently and domestic violence-free.

“We give them the resources, and if they have trouble we’ll be there to help,” Miller said.

For those who ask, “Why do men need a shelter of their own?” Miller tells the story about a resident who came to The Taylor House to get away from an “incredibly jealous and paranoid” significant other. The man had dreams about his significant other coming to the shelter, demanding to know where “the other women” were and firing a gun at him.

“That story tells me they need their own place,” Miller said.

In the case of an abused woman, the community might rally her. But men often fear being told they need to “suck it up.” They fear being laughed at or not being believed. Men are not socialized to express feelings.

It’s never easy to taking that first step to leave, and sometimes there are children in the household to think about. Resources for abused men are scarce. Even if they feel comfortable doing so, men don’t know where to turn for help.

But Duncan said FVP has seen the need for years.

Over the years, Safe Haven, FVP’s women’s shelter, did house men alongside women, but as Duncan said, gender (or sexual orientation) shouldn’t matter when a person is in need of help. Abuse is abuse.

Why aren’t there other men’s shelters?

Miller and Duncan said there a few reasons: 1) People are afraid to take that leap; 2) Funding is scarce; and 3) Men are not often recognized as domestic abuse victims.

And without the donation of the house that became the shelter, it probably wouldn’t have come about in Batesville, either.

When Dr. Charles Taylor died, his wife, Rachel, went to reside at an assisted living facility. She was a nurse and had worked with the women’s shelter for many years. When she moved, her son Dr. David Taylor began donating things, like the furniture from the house. Still, they didn’t want to sell the house, and the family considered donating it.

But getting a house ready to open as a shelter was a big task. There was a kitchen to gut, tons of work to be done, not to mention furniture to move in.

Still, they got it done in 5½ weeks. “It was a mad dash,” Duncan said with a laugh.

In June, there were 79 “bed nights,” meaning at least one man spent the night in the shelter. In May and June, The Taylor House actually had more bed nights than Safe Haven, but in some months Safe Haven might have as many as 600 bed nights.

Out of 200-plus days in operation, the shelter has probably only had 30 or so where it’s been empty of victims of male domestic violence.

The male domestic violence victim shelter has housed nearly as many men from outside the state as from Arkansas, and there probably have been that many more crisis calls. But Taylor House officials are unable to get transportation to Batesville. Miller said he would love to fund transport to the shelter or male domestic violence victims in a state of crisis.

The numbers don’t reflect the number of phone calls, Miller said, from men who have called for help to get out of a violent situation or seeking orders of protection. From Oct. 1 to June 30, the shelter had 41 crisis calls.

“That sounds like a small number, but considering they’ve never had anywhere to call before, that’s saying something,” Duncan said.

The word about male domestic violence is getting out. Duncan and Miller said they’ve fielded calls from women’s shelters all across the country, and The Taylor House is registered with state coalitions and online at sites like domesticshelters.org. Duncan said there are 32 shelters in Arkansas, counting the two in Batesville.

The Taylor House does have a family room if a man arrives with children, but so far that has not happened, Miller said.

This is an AP member exchange story from The Batesville Daily Guard (http://www.guardonline.com/)


March Madness: Indiana, Arkansas attempt to quiet uproar

March did not go out like a lamb in Indiana, where protesters roared against a “religious liberties” measure intended to protect those who discriminate against LGBT people.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence claimed that was not the intent of the law he signed on March 26 but retreated from on April 2, with conservative Republicans following. But Pence, a former congressman and tea party politician, had signed the initial Religious Freedom Restoration Act law surrounded by Christian right leaders who, having largely lost the campaign against marriage equality, are waging a battle to make it legal to deny services, accommodations and products to LGBT people, particularly the marrying kind.

“If discrimination is not the intent of the law, then what is?” said civil rights activist Sam Bartlett of Indianapolis. “The truth is, they wanted to pass a law to allow discrimination against gays and didn’t know the backlash would be so big and so costly to the state’s economy and reputation when the eyes of the nation were upon us.”

Indianapolis is home to the NCAA and hosted the men’s Final Four basketball championship on April 4–6. NCAA president Mark Emmert had said the Indiana law needed to change and suggested that the organization could leave the state if the law wasn’t fixed.

“March Madness this year meant something else entirely,” said Bartlett, who was astounded by the vitality of the rainbow-themed demonstrations at the Capitol as Republican lawmakers advanced the legislation and then, facing condemnation and boycotts, amended the law to state that it did not authorize discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

When GOP legislators announced the changes on April 2, they stood not with religious right leaders but with corporate leaders from Eli Lilly, the Pacers and the state chamber of commerce. The Center for American Progress estimated the backlash could cost Indiana “as much as $250 million in economic activity and counting.” 

Religious freedom, license to discriminate

So-called religious freedom laws exist in 20 states and were introduced in 15 states this year, following unparalleled advances in marriage equality. Indiana’s religious liberties bill was introduced in January, just months after a federal court overturned the state ban on same-sex marriage.

Proponents of the measures claim they are fashioned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993 and have argued that their purpose is to protect the rights of religious minorities.

However, the recent push really derives from the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto drafted in 2009 by a coalition of conservative Christians pledging to resist laws requiring recognition of same-sex marriages and enabling abortions.

And Indiana’s RFRA, broader than most, was enacted in a state that still lacks civil rights legislation banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The timing of this legislation is important to understanding its intent: The bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana,” said Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.

Civil rights activists organized a statewide campaign to defeat the bill, but the national uproar over the measure followed the governor’s signing of the initial bill.

Corporations — including Nike, Apple, Twitter, Subaru, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap, PayPal, Yelp, Salesforce, Alcoa, and Cummins — joined in the opposition. Among the first to weigh in was Angie’s List, halting an expansion in Indianapolis. “Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents,” CEO Bill Oesterle said in a press statement on March 28.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson called the legislation “pure idiocy from a business perspective.” He also said the “notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate against people based on who they are is madness.”

Hollywood stars, pro athletes and rock stars joined in the protest on social media. Bands put plans to perform in Indiana on hold. Faith-based institutions, including Reform Jews and Disciples of Christ, condemned the legislation, as did leaders of the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers. And many politicians, most of them Democrats, registered outrage. Connecticut instituted a ban on government-funded travel and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote letters inviting about a dozen businesses to leave Indiana for Chicago.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele personally has donated $5,000 to the ACLU of Indiana’s work to further LGBT equality and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett penned an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, saying, “Wisconsin would be wrong to follow” Indiana and other states.

Also, Dane County Supervisors Kyle Richmond, Chuck Erickson and Andrew Schauer and Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic proposed banning taxpayer-funded non-essential travel to Indiana.

“I was born and raised in Indiana and I am embarrassed,” said Richmond, who is gay. “Legalizing bigotry in the name of religion is divisive and cowardly.”

Meanwhile, defense of Indiana’s RFRA was more limited — mostly to extremist groups, such as the Traditional Values Coalition and conservative politicians hoping to become president, such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker, who has said he supports the RFRA in principle.

On March 31, Pence asked for an amendment clarifying the bill.

A Questionable ‘Fix’

So, as Indiana lawmakers worked on a fix, lawmakers considered similar bills in other states. On April 2, Pence also signed Indiana’s amended law, which prohibits using the measure as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.

The law exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations.

Pence said on April 2, “However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.”

The political madness, as the Final Four weekend arrived, appeared to be dying down, but concerns continued.

Gay rights leaders said Indiana must enact broad civil rights protections for LGBT people.

“The harm has been lessened, but we have not reached the day when LGBT Hoosiers can be assured that they can live their lives with freedom from discrimination,” said Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana. “It’s long past time to enact a comprehensive nondiscrimination law, and we must continue to work to ensure, once and for all, that the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against or hurt anyone.”

The Human Rights Campaign said approximately 80 percent of Hoosiers live with no explicit protection from or recourse for LGBT discrimination under state or local law. Also, the so-called “fix” still allows a pharmacist, citing personal religious beliefs, to deny a legitimate prescription to an LGBT person seeking HIV medication, hormone therapy, or to a lesbian couple seeking fertility drugs. And the “fix” also allows a parent to sue an individual teacher for intervening when his or her child harasses another child perceived to be LGBT.

In Arkansas, the legislature sent a bill to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who, looking north to Indiana and hearing objections from Wal-Mart, asked for revisions. 

Arkansas lawmakers changed the bill to more closely mirror the 1993 federal law and it only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. Hutchinson signed the legislation on April 2, with civil rights leaders still concerned about the potential impact.

“This new law fails to protect against the use of religion to discriminate against and harm others,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Religious liberty is a fundamental value that the ACLU of Arkansas has been working to uphold since 1969. We will be vigilant and ensure that the shield of religious freedom doesn’t become a sword used to harm others in the state of Arkansas.”

Indiana success emboldens gay right advocates

Gay rights advocates are hoping to parlay the momentum from their big legislative victories in Indiana and Arkansas into further expanding legal protections for gays and lesbians in states around the U.S.

Hundreds of people calling for Indiana to add protections for gays and lesbians to state civil rights laws marched through downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, April 4, drawing the attention of fans attending college basketball’s Final Four basketball tournament, a major event in American sports. They chanted “No more Band-Aids masking hate,” before they walked several blocks to Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the NCAA men’s basketball championship semi-final and final games.

Facing widespread pressure, including from big businesses such as Apple and Wal-Mart, Republican lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas rolled back their states’ new religious objections laws, which critics said could be used to discriminate against gays. Amid the uproar, the Republican governors of Michigan and North Dakota urged their own legislatures to extend anti-discrimination protections to gays.

A wave of religious objections laws have been proposed in states across America as same-sex marriage rapidly advanced, prompting a backlash from evangelical Christian Republicans.

Court rulings and state legislatures have legalized same-sex marriage in 37 states and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to finally issue a decision on the legality of gay marriage this year.

The gay rights movement is also pressing for protections for gays and lesbians in states’ non-discrimination laws. Twenty-nine states don’t include protections for gays, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. But the Indiana and Arkansas laws are fueling efforts to change that as the 2016 elections approach.

Similar debates are going on elsewhere. In North Dakota the Republican-controlled Legislature voted down a measure that would have prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation in the areas of housing and employment. Gov. Jack Dalrymple rebuked lawmakers, saying such discrimination wasn’t acceptable.

In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder warned legislators that he would veto a religious objections bill unless they also sent him a measure that would extend anti-discrimination protections to gays. He cited the Indiana outcry in making his warning.

Most of the states without sexual orientation protections are solid Republican strongholds in the South or the central Plains. As public opinion has become more supportive of same-sex marriage and other gay rights in recent years, many businesses say such protections factor into their decisions about expansions and help them attract top employees.

Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature took a first step by adding language to its new religious objections law stating that service providers can’t use the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors. It is now the first Indiana state law that explicitly mentions sexual orientation and gender identity.

The governors of New York and Connecticut, who had imposed bans on state officials traveling to Indiana as a symbol of their opposition to the religious objections law, lifted those bans in response to the changes in the law.

Arkansas’ amended law only addresses actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. The law’s supporters say the changes would prevent businesses from using it to deny services to individuals, even though it doesn’t include specific anti-discrimination language similar to Indiana’s law.

Gay rights proponents want Arkansas to go further, though, and are trying to build support for adding sexual orientation to the protected statuses covered by the state’s civil rights laws. The state’s attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, last week approved the wording of a proposed ballot measure that would add such protections, clearing the way for supporters to begin gathering the signatures needed to get it on the November 2016 ballot.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, meanwhile, has left open the possibility of issuing an executive order that would prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at state agencies.

Arkansas state Rep. Warwick Sabin, a Democrat from Little Rock, said the issue isn’t going away.

“Other states are moving ahead of us and Arkansas is being left in the dust,” he said. “We need to make an affirmative statement about our values as a state, and I know that the vast majority of Arkansans believe in fairness and opportunity for all of its citizens.”

Religious freedom fights are not going away

Conservative faith leaders who have made religious liberty a rallying cry as gay marriage spread throughout the U.S. have been stunned by Indiana’s abrupt retreat from a law some advocates said would protect objectors from recognizing same-sex unions.

But these religious conservatives are vowing to press on with their push for conscience protections — a drive that gained momentum several years ago when they saw their beliefs on marriage, abortion and other issues increasingly in the minority.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who leads the religious liberty committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops’ goals have not changed following the uproar this week in Indiana and to a lesser degree Arkansas.

“Individual or family-owned businesses as well as religious institutions should have the freedom to serve others consistent with their faith,” Lori said in a statement.

Similarly, the Rev. Russell Moore, who leads the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “We have to continue to press for religious liberty for everybody regardless of how unpopular that concept might be.”

Still, Tim Schultz, president of the First Amendment Partnership, which works with religious groups and state lawmakers on religious liberty, said after this week’s controversy over religious freedom, “the brand has definitely been tarnished.”

The governors of Indiana and Arkansas signed bills hoping to quiet the national outcry over whether the laws offered a legal defense for discrimination against gays. In Arkansas, the changes more closely aligned the bill with the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Indiana law was amended to bar discrimination and prohibit social service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing service to the public. Liberal religious groups had been among those condemning the laws.

Religious liberty was once an issue that consistently united groups across the political and theological spectrum. But religious conservatives came to adopt religious freedom as a call to arms, as they found themselves more and more on the losing side of the culture wars.

A decade ago, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm in Washington, convened legal scholars from across the ideological divide on gay marriage to examine potential areas where religious freedom and gay rights might clash.

Protections for worship are secure under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But complications arise when faith-affiliated organizations, such as charities, hospitals and schools, try to maintain their religious identity even as large employers of people from all faiths and providers of services to the public.

A coalition of evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders later pledged civil disobedience to government laws they said would compel them to violate their views.

By 2011, the Catholic bishops’ conference had formed its own religious liberty committee and started organizing rallies and prayer services around the issue. The same year, the 1st Amendment Partnership was formed to work with state lawmakers.

The movement had its greatest victory to date last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and other closely held businesses with religious objections could opt out of providing the contraceptive coverage required by the Affordable Care Act.

But that win prompted a liberal backlash, and public opinion against religious exemptions hardened, especially when it came to legalizing gay marriage.

Conflicts over protections for religious objectors had been a part of every statehouse debate over legalizing gay marriage. In New York, same-sex marriage became law in 2011 only after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s top two legislators struck an 11th-hour compromise on protections for religious objectors.

But when gay marriage increasingly became recognized by courts instead of legislatures, religious conservatives needed another means to seek conscience protections. Lawmakers in several states turned to the laws known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, which states had been adopting one-by-one since 1997, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal version of the law did not apply to states.

But many church-state experts say the laws have been badly misrepresented amid this week’s turmoil. Legal scholars say the law would not provide blanket protection for religious objectors to gay marriage, as some advocates claimed. Religious Freedom Restoration Acts give people a chance to bring a religious liberty claim before a judge, who then decides on the merits.

“Those folks who wanted to clutch onto these laws as a way to hold onto the past or stave off gay rights misunderstood what these laws would do,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Illinois Law School.

Nevada Republicans drop ‘religious freedom’ bills

Nevada Republicans are dropping two proposed bills that would have added religious freedom protections to state law that critics have hounded as legalizing discrimination against LGBT people.

Assemblyman Erv Nelson and Sen. Joe Hardy said they would no longer pursue passage of AB 277 or SB 272. The two lawmakers were sponsoring the bills, which contained similar language enacting a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Nevada state law.

Similar proposals in Indiana and Arkansas drew substantial criticism over the last two weeks due to concerns that the bill would create exemptions for businesses to legally discriminate against gay and lesbian people.

The act was passed by Congress in 1993 and initially applied to state and local governments until it was overturned by the Supreme Court. Around 20 states have passed similar legislation over the last two dozen years.

Nelson said the recent outcry over a similar law in Indiana and existing religious protective provisions in the Nevada constitution helped solidify his decision to not pursue the bill.

“This bill was not meant to do anything about same-sex marriage or sexual preference,” he said.

In a statement, Gov. Brian Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said the governor believed Nevada’s current laws protected all individuals in the state.

“The governor believes that this bill is not necessary because the interests of all Nevadans are protected under current law,” she said in a statement.

Although supporters claim the bill echoes the federal law passed in 1993 and similar legislation in nearly two dozen states, the bill contains several key differences, including defining a for-profit business as an individual with religious rights and allowing suits to come forward between private parties.

American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Vanessa Spinazola said she was concerned that the bills included different language that other states with religious freedom acts. She said the bill would essentially create a wide exemption for businesses to avoid following Nevada’s tough discriminatory protection laws.

“People who are in a protected class will walk into businesses and they will never know if they’re going to get served there or not,” she said. “It basically brings us back to segregated lunch counters in the Civil Rights era.”

Boyd Law School professor Leslie Griffin said the recent fights over the religious laws are based less on protecting minority religions and more about the fight over extending gay and lesbian rights.

“The battle against marriage equality is almost lost, this is the next round,” she said.

Republicans in recent days have hinted that they didn’t want to pass such a law. Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson said the Legislature didn’t want to harm Nevada’s vital tourism industry, and Sen. Greg Brower said at a Thursday hearing on an anti-discrimination bill that Nevada is open to business to everyone.

Hardy said he didn’t intend the bill to legalize discrimination and that furor over the Indiana law meant the state shouldn’t take up the bill this session.

“I don’t want to give a message that we’re trying to discriminate,” Hardy said. “That’s not us, that’s not who we are.”

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Arkansas Senate takes up religion bill at governor’s request

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson backed away on April 1 from his promise to sign a controversial religious objections bill, bowing to pressure from critics of the measure, including his own son and some of the state’s biggest employers, who say the legislation is anti-gay.

The Republican governor said he wants the Legislature either to recall the bill from his desk to amend it or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious freedom law. Arkansas lawmakers moved quickly to advance a new version aimed at addressing the governor’s concerns.

Hutchinson said his son, Seth, was among those who signed a petition asking him to veto the bill.

“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial,” the governor said. “But these are not ordinary times.”

Hutchinson initially supported the bill, and on March 31, his office said he planned to sign it into law. Hutchinson said on April 1 that he’s still committed to signing a religious freedom measure but wants it consistent with the federal law.

“What is important from an Arkansas standpoint is one, we get the right balance. And secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

He was the second governor in as many days to give ground to opponents of the legislation.

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar measure last week, Pence and fellow Republicans endured days of sharp criticism from around the country. The Indiana governor is now seeking follow-up legislation to address concerns that the law could allow businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Hutchinson also faced pressure from the state’s top employers, including Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has asked for the bill to be vetoed. Little Rock’s mayor, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas-based data-services company Acxiom have all urged the governor to reject the bill.

Other big names in business, including Apple, Gap and Levi Strauss, have also spoken out against the religious objections measures.

Experts say companies are increasingly concerned about any laws that could alienate customers, hurt state economies or limit employers’ ability to attract and retain talent.

Wal-Mart is particularly influential because it is the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer.

Neither the Indiana nor Arkansas law specifically mentions gays and lesbians, but opponents say that the language contained in them could offer a legal defense to businesses and other institutions that refuse to serve gays, such as caterers, florists or photographers with religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Similar proposals have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, with some differences. Indiana and 19 other states have similar laws on the books.

Hutchinson did not specifically call for changes that would prohibit the law from being used to deny services, but the governor said he did not believe the bill was intended to do so.

“This law that is under consideration does not extend discrimination,” Hutchinson said.

Legislators face a short window to act. The governor has five days after the bill is formally delivered to him to take action before it becomes law without his signature.

By late April 1, the Senate had approved a new version of the bill by a 26-6 vote. The Senate moments later approved a separate, identical version of the compromise bill by a 26-0 vote.

A House panel was expected to take up the proposal on April 2, with supporters hoping to put it up for a final vote later that day. One of the lawmakers behind the original religious objections bill said he supported the changes, even though he preferred the initial measure.

“This is a good opportunity, and I feel like it protects the citizens of the state of Arkansas that they’ll be able to believe what they want to believe without government interference,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville said.

The revised proposal would only address actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. Supporters of the amended version said the change means businesses denying services to someone on religious grounds could not use the law as a defense.

Opponents of the law were encouraged by Hutchinson’s comments.

“What’s clear is the governor has been listening,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group. Now opponents have to “keep the pressure on,” he said.

Conservative groups that sought the measure questioned the need for any changes.

“I’m very puzzled at this point to see why the bill would need to be amended at this late date, considering everybody in the chamber has had a chance to see it,” said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council. “I think it’s been thoroughly vetted, and it’s a good law.”

In Indiana, Republican legislative leaders huddled behind closed doors for hours with Pence, business executives and other lawmakers, but did not come to an agreement on how to clarify the law.

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long indicated they hope to have language ready for possible votes on April 2.

The Indianapolis Star, which obtained a draft of the proposed language, reported that it would specify that the law cannot be used as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods or accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation.

Also in Indianapolis, the NCAA faced a decision about whether to call for next year’s women’s Final Four to find a new venue.

The NCAA was among the first sports organizations to express concern with the law when Pence signed it, and many others have followed, including the NFL, the NBA and NASCAR.

The men’s Final Four is in Indianapolis this weekend and could not have been moved on short notice. But officials have made it clear there is enough time to consider relocating future events.

Wal-Mart urges Arkansas governor to veto ‘License to Discriminate’ bill

Wal-Mart on March 31 urged Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto a “license to discriminate” bill similar to the measure generating widespread protest against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and the conservative majority in that state’s legislature.

The Arkansas House sent the bill to Hutchinson earlier this week. The measure would allow discrimination against people based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

In a statement, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillan said, “Every day in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve. It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of H.B. 1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”

H.B.1228, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would a person to ignore state laws and cite his or her personal religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against others.

For instance, a teacher who puts an anti-bullying policy into practice could be at risk of being sued or a police officer could sue a precinct because patrolling a synagogue violated his or her religious beliefs.

Wal-Mart joins dozens of corporate leaders and businesses who have condemned the legislation, including Apple and its CEO Tim Cook; Acxiom, one of Arkansas’ largest employers; Yelp; PayPal; the Arkansas Municipal League and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Similar legislation signed into law in Indiana has received a torrent of criticism, as companies such as Salesforce, Angie’s List and others have stated that they will cut back on or limit investment in the state of Indiana because of the discriminatory new law.

If Hutchinson signs H.B. 1228 into law, it would be the second piece of anti-LGBT legislation to become law in Arkansas this year.

In February, the legislature passed S.B. 202, prohibiting municipalities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people. Hutchinson allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

Wal-Mart criticizes so-called ‘conscience protection’ measure

Wal-Mart this week criticized a measure in the retail giant’s home state that opponents say sanctions discrimination against gays and lesbians, while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also expressed concerns about the legislation.

The proposal to prohibit state and local governments from imposing a “substantial burden” on someone’s religious beliefs faced new resistance a day after Arkansas became the second state to bar cities and counties from expanding anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians.

Bentonville-based Wal-Mart’s criticism of the pending legislation was nearly identical to concerns it raised about the new law regarding local ordinances. The world’s largest retailer includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.

“While HB1228 will not change how we treat our associates and operate our business, we feel this legislation is also counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state,” Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in a statement.

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he had reservations the House-backed measure, but stopped short of saying whether he opposed it. Hutchinson said he has questions about how the measure would be applied.

“I can see a great deal of litigation coming out of this, and so we want to have a better understanding of it,” Hutchinson told reporters.

The measure would ban any local or state laws or regulations that substantially burden religious beliefs unless a “compelling governmental interest” is proven. The bill, if enacted, would strengthen any case of a person suing the government if that person could prove their religious beliefs were infringed upon.

The legislation is patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have similar laws and 10 states are currently considering them. Hutchinson said he understands the desire to protect religious freedom, but said he needed more information on the bill’s impact.

“Part of it is, if as a lawyer I can’t get a good grasp of it one time through, then it makes me wonder how this is going to be interpreted by the courts,” Hutchinson said. “It’s just the unintended consequences of legislation is what you’ve got to look at very carefully.”

Hutchinson’s comments came a day after he allowed legislation to become law that bans local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation or gender identity. Opponents of the measure had urged Hutchinson to veto it after he said he was concerned about it infringing on local control.

Both bills were pushed in response to a Fayetteville ordinance that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The city’s voters repealed the ordinance in December.

Gay rights groups have shifted their attention to the “conscience protection” measure, calling it another thinly veiled attempt to endorse bias against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“HB1228 is equally disturbing and allows any person to claim religious belief as their grounds for discriminatory acts,” Kendra Johnson, state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement issued this week. “Simply put, state senators should erase it from the legislative agenda.”

The measure was expected to go before a Senate panel on Wednesday. Its sponsor said he planned to talk with Hutchinson about his concerns.

“I know the bill real well and I know Asa, where he stands on the issue,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville said. “I think in the end he’ll side with protecting people’s religious freedom.”