Arkansas passes religious freedom bill similar to Indiana lawAround the Nation, Breaking News, Top Highlights Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
A religious freedom bill that is similar to the Indiana law that has faced national backlash for legalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people cleared the Arkansas Legislature Tuesday. The bill will now go before Gov. Asa Hutchinson, where it is expected to be signed.
According to The Huffington Post the Arkansas legislation allows a person who feels his or her exercise of religion has been “substantially burdened” to cite that argument as a claim or defense in a private lawsuit. The legislation also grants corporations the right to religious freedom. This language is not in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and critics say it could be used to override existing anti-discrimination protections.
“The Arkansas and Indiana bills are virtually identical in terms of language and intent,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “They place LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, women and many more people at risk of discrimination.”
Indiana’s Gov. Pence today asked for legislation to be sent to his desk this week that makes clear that the Indiana RFRA cannot be used to deny services to anyone. However, Pence did not offer specifics to his request and did not offer support for LGBT non-discrimination protections.
“We would like to see both Indiana and Arkansas adopt language clarifying that the state RFRA cannot be used to undermine federal, state or local non-discrimination laws,” Warbelow said.
In Arkansas, both Walmart and Acxiom, a big data company, have spoken out against the legislation. The Democratic mayor of Little Rock also warned Hutchinson on Tuesday that “any piece of legislation that is so divisive cannot possibly be good for the state of Arkansas and its people.”
But Hutchinson appears unfazed by these concerns. Last week, he vowed that he would sign the legislation: “Arkansas is open for business, and we recognize and respect the diversity of our culture and economy,” he said in a statement.
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