Issues and Controversies

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Act 975 of 2015

aka: Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB975 of the 2015 regular legislative session) was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly and signed into law as Act 975 by Governor Asa Hutchinson. It closely aligns Arkansas law with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Under the legislation, any governmental action in Arkansas that is a “substantial burden” to an individual’s free exercise of religion may only stand if it furthers a “compelling governmental interest” in the “least restrictive” manner possible. Like the federal RFRA, the Arkansas RFRA was meant to return to the “balancing test” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sherbert v. Verner (1963) but overturned in the 1990 Employment Division v. …

Albert Krantz v. City of Fort Smith

aka: Krantz v. City of Fort Smith
Albert Krantz v. City of Fort Smith was a 1998 decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the distribution and posting of flyers and leaflets. In a ruling informed by the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression, the Court of Appeals deemed unconstitutional town ordinances enacted by Alma (Crawford County), Dyer (Crawford County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and Van Buren (Crawford County) prohibiting the leafletting of vehicles parked in public spaces. The case originated with the arrests of Albert Krantz and other members of the Twentieth Century Holiness Tabernacle Church after they left religious leaflets under the windshield wipers of vehicles parked in public parking areas in Alma, Dyer, Fort Smith, and Van Buren in the early …

Anti-Catholicism

Organized prejudice against Roman Catholics was a recurring theme in American history from colonial days through the early twentieth century, rising to a climax in the 1910s and 1920s. Nowhere was it greater in these years than in Arkansas. The renewed anti-Catholic movement began around 1910 as a response to a massive immigration of Catholics from Italy and Eastern Europe. Roman Catholicism had become the largest Christian denomination in the United States by this time. This immigration, however, largely missed Arkansas, a state with one of the lowest percentages of Catholic residents in the United States. A lack of knowledge or personal experience with Catholic neighbors provided ideal ground for the growth of an anti-Catholic movement. In 1912, a Missionary …

Anti-Semitism

Relations between Jews and the rest of the population were generally amicable throughout the South in the nineteenth century, if only because few Jews lived in the region. Although historians point to Abraham Block as the first member of the Jewish faith in Arkansas, when Block arrived in the 1820s, the nearest congregation to his family was in New Orleans, Louisiana—over 400 miles away. The first Jewish congregation in the state of Arkansas, B’Nai Israel in Little Rock (Pulaski County), was not founded until 1866. At this time, out of a state population of more than 450,000, the number of Jews stood at only 400. Most of these arrived to the United States with the great European migration of the …

Appeal of the Arkansas Exiles to Christians throughout the World

The “Appeal of the Arkansas Exiles to Christians throughout the World” was a plea for assistance written by twelve free African Americans expelled from Arkansas after the passage of Act 151 of 1859 (also known as the Act to Remove the Free Negroes and Mulattos from the State or Arkansas’s Free Negro Expulsion Act of 1859). The authors of the appeal left Arkansas on or about January 1, 1860, and arrived, with several others, in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 3, 1860. The exodus from Arkansas displaced an estimated 800 free blacks from an approximate population of 1,000 who resided in the state prior to 1860. Of the 800 free blacks who were expelled, as many as 200 were believed to …

Arkansas Right to Life

Arkansas Right to Life is a nonprofit organization whose stated purpose is to “educate through the presentation of detailed and factual information about fetal development, abortion, alternatives to abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and related issues, upon which individuals and the general public may make informed decisions.” The organization is mainly known for its stance against abortion, but members also actively oppose stem-cell research, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Arkansas Right to Life is a state affiliate of National Right to Life, which was founded in 1968. The Arkansas chapter was officially incorporated as a nonprofit public organization in 1974, the year after the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion in the United States. National Right to Life and …

Convent Inspection Act of 1915

aka: Act 130 of 1915
aka: Posey Act
The Convent Inspection Act was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly and signed by Governor George Washington Hays in March 1915. The act was not unique to Arkansas, as states such as Georgia and Florida had similar laws. The Arkansas law allowed for sheriffs and constables to inspect convents, hospitals, asylums, seminaries, and rectories on a regular basis. The purpose, as stated in one section, was “to afford every person within the confines of said institutions, the fullest opportunity to divulge the truth to their detention therein.” If twelve citizens petitioned local authorities, law enforcement could enter these facilities day or night without notice. Whatever the stated intention of the legislation, one writer in the Arkansas Gazette on February 17, …

Grannis Vigil

On September 29, 1975, in the tiny town of Grannis (Polk County), a group of approximately twenty-five residents, most of them relatives, closed themselves off from the rest of the world to ready themselves for what they believed to be the soon-approaching return of Jesus Christ. Over a period of almost ten months, the vigil members left jobs, removed children from school, and gathered food and supplies in a single residence to await the end of the world. The ensuing vigil garnered local and national attention and even sparked debate relating to the separation of church and state and the right of religious expression. The vigil ended on July 16, 1976, when federal marshals acted on a court-ordered notice of …

Jonesboro Church Wars

The Jonesboro Church Wars were a series of early 1930s religious conflicts within the Baptist community of Jonesboro (Craighead County), comprising attacks on the mayor and the police chief, public gunfights, and the calling of the National Guard to restore order. The conflict attracted national attention and poisoned relations among some townspeople for generations. At the center of the Jonesboro Church Wars was Joe Jeffers, an actor-comedian turned traveling evangelist who, at the invitation of the First Baptist Church and Jonesboro Bible College, began a series of tent revival meetings on June 29, 1930. Jeffers proved to be so popular as he preached through July that, when First Baptist pastor A. W. Reaves resigned in early August, the congregation elected …

Liberator, The

The Liberator was an anti-Catholic weekly newspaper published in Magnolia (Columbia County) from 1912 to 1915. It is representative of a type of journalism that railed against Catholicism in the early 1900s and was particularly strong in the South and the Midwest. Populist politician Tom Watson of Georgia had launched a new wave of anti-Catholic journalism in 1910 with his Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine, but the largest anti-Catholic paper was The Menace, published in Aurora, in the Missouri Ozarks, approximately forty miles north of the Arkansas line. Founded in 1911, The Menace had 1.5 million subscriptions by 1915, making it one of the most widely circulated publications in the country. The Liberator was a smaller regional paper, similar to other anti-Catholic …

Little Rock Debates on Evolution (1966)

The “Great Evolution Debate,” as it was billed, was held in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on June 28–29, 1966, following a decision by Judge Murray O. Reed on May 27, 1966, which declared that Arkansas’s 1928 law banning the teaching of evolution in Arkansas’s public schools was unconstitutional. A case challenging the right of a state to outlaw the teaching of evolution in public schools had been filed in the Pulaski County Chancery Court, with Little Rock Central High School biology teacher Susan Epperson as the point person. The case was heard in April 1966, leading to the decision by Judge Reed in May. Professor James D. Bales of Harding College (now Harding University) in Searcy (White County) led the …

Mountain Meadows Massacre

In April 1857, near Harrison (Boone County), 120 to 150 settlers, mostly Arkansans, started a journey toward the promise of a better life in California. Before they could reach their destination, a party of Mormons and Indians attacked them while they camped on a plateau known as Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. All of the travelers died except for seventeen children, who were taken into Mormon homes. Beyond this information, little can be agreed upon, from the number of victims to who was responsible. About forty families, composed mainly of Arkansans from Marion, Crawford, Carroll, and Johnson counties, met at Beller’s Stand just south of Harrison. This migration was known by several names, including the Baker train and the Perkins train, …

Pratt, Parley P. (Murder of)

Parley Parker Pratt, an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was murdered in Arkansas in 1857 and buried in the state, despite his wishes to be buried in Utah.The Van Buren (Crawford County) newspaper Arkansas Intelligencer, on May 15, 1857, deemed Pratt “a man of note among the Mormons.” While another notable event involving Mormons in Arkansas—the massacre of Arkansas emigrants four months later at Mountain Meadows, Utah—was formerly linked to Pratt’s murder in Arkansas, more recent inquiry suggests other circumstances may have ignited the violence at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857. Pratt was one of the key figures in the early Church leadership. Pratt’s writings, which include pamphlets, …

Smith, Hay Watson

Hay Watson Smith, a Little Rock (Pulaski County) Presbyterian minister, was a leading opponent of the movement to outlaw the teaching of biological evolution in Arkansas schools during the 1920s. His liberal viewpoints, both political and theological, brought him into conflict with traditional elements and resulted in charges of heresy by some within the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). Hay Smith was born on February 18, 1868, the fifth of seven children, to J. Henry Smith and Mary Kelly Watson Smith in Greensboro, North Carolina. His father was a prominent Presbyterian minister. His brother, Henry Louis Smith, was later president of Davidson College in North Carolina, which Smith attended, graduating in 1890. Smith then entered Union Theological …