Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a religious freedom measure into law on Thursday after state lawmakers overhauled their proposal so that it mirrors the federal law. In the wake of intense backlash against a similar law in Indiana, first-term Republican governor had rejected the first version Arkansas lawmakers had sent to his desk, instead asking for two tweaks so there would be no daylight between his state’s law and the one President Bill Clinton signed in 1993. “I think it’s sending the right signal, the way this has been resolved, to the world and the country that Arkansas understands the diversity of our culture and workforce but also the importance of balancing that with our sincerely held religious convictions,” Hutchinson said Thursday afternoon.
There’s also this:
Meanwhile, Hutchinson said, he’s considering signing an executive order that bars discrimination among the state’s workforce. “The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions,” Hutchinson said then. “It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.” Case in point, Hutchinson said: His son Seth signed a petition asking him to veto the bill — and also gave his father permission to tell reporters he’d done so.
So at the end of all this mess, in Arkansas at least, it appears that the wingnuts get a relatively toothless “religious freedom” bill and we might get protections for state employees. Still standing is the bill that repeals local LGBT rights ordinances.
UPDATE: The ACLU reacts.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson today signed SB 975 into law, a revised bill that sought to improve upon Religious Freedom Restoration Act HB 1228, which closely resembled Indiana’s controversial RFRA. In doing so, he rejected the earlier HB 1228, which, like Indiana’s divisive law, allowed anyone to use their religious beliefs to claim that they have a right to refuse to follow virtually any law, including nondiscrimination laws.
The revised version was proposed following Gov. Hutchinson’s acknowledgement yesterday of HB 1228’s significant flaws, yet it falls short in protecting against the use of religion to avoid following laws that protect Arkansans from harm. The new RFRA can still be invoked to justify discrimination against gay and transgender people, people of color, minority faiths, women, and other Arkansans at risk.
We are grateful that Gov. Hutchinson and members of the General Assembly have listened to the loud outcry in opposition to HB 1228 and have enacted a new proposal. But this new law fails to protect against the use of religion to discriminate against and harm others. 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.