Arkansas Is Rewriting Its Religious Freedom Bill

Indiana's religious freedom law has recently become the new front line in the conflict between LGBT advocates and religious conservatives, but the battle over religious freedom has now surfaced in another state. Arkansas, whose state legislature passed a similar religious freedom bill to Indiana's on Tuesday, is the latest entrant to the fight. Listening to critics, which included one of his sons, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday called upon lawmakers to change Arkansas' religious freedom bill, which initially could have allowed businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community, before he signs it into law.

The state Senate heeded Hutchinson's request, passing a compromise bill 26-6 Wednesday night. The state House of Representatives will take it up on Thursday. Hutchinson had previously said he would sign the original version, but with backlash against Indiana escalating, the Arkansas governor sent the religious freedom bill back to the state's Republican-controlled legislature so it could be rewritten. The goal, he said in a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol in Little Rock, is to include language that would allow for both tolerance and religious protections.

We want to be known as a state that does not discriminate, but understands tolerance. We just didn't get it perfect through that legislative process.
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There are 20 states in the country, as well as the federal government, that have religious freedom acts in place. These laws are designed to allow people to sue the government if they feel their religious rights, as protected by the First Amendment, have been violated. But the religious freedom act signed in Indiana, and the one now in question in Arkansas, allows businesses to take the government to court. These versions could give business owners the opportunity to cite the law when refusing services to LGBT individuals, opponents argue.

In Arkansas, the battle surrounding religious freedom has become a family affair. Gov. Hutchinson's son Seth Hutchinson is one of many who have protested the bill. The New York Times reports that the younger Hutchinson wrote to warn his father that the bill would hurt Arkansas' reputation and economy. Similar arguments were made by The Indianapolis Star to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, in an editorial that ran on the front cover of Tuesday's paper. Seth Hutchinson, however, told the Times he did not deserve the credit for changing his father's mind.

I did not sway my dad. I think my dad is rethinking this because of the pressure that’s coming at him from all sides.

Gov. Hutchinson said on Wednesday he would attempt to bring Arkansas' religious freedom act in line with the federal one, which does not let businesses sue private parties based on alleged religious offenses.

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.

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