Arkansas Governor Asks Legislature to Change 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he will not yet sign a law similar to Indiana's.

ByChris Good
April 01, 2015, 11:50 AM

— -- Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has asked his state's legislature to alter a religious-freedom bill sent to his desk before he will sign it.

"I ask that changes be made in the legislature, and I've asked that the leaders of the General Assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended to reflect the terms of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Hutchinson said.

The governor noted that the bill applies to corporations and litigation between private citizens or entities, neither of which are included in the federal law signed by Bill Clinton.

"We want to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance," Hutchinson said, referencing the controversy around Indiana's law.

Hutchinson pointed out that his own son signed a petition asking him to veto the bill. He also said a debate will continue over whether to add protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation to the state's laws or constitution, either through the state legislature or through a popular vote.

Passed Tuesday by the state legislature, the law is similar to the one Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed last week, sparking a national wave of backlash from businesses, pro-gay-rights activists, and the NCAA.

Similar pressure has been brought to bear on Hutchinson in Arkansas, as Walmart CEO Doug McMillon urged Hutchinson via Twitter on Tuesday to veto the bill, saying it violated the "spirit of inclusion" in Arkansas. Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas. The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Little Rock Democratic Mayor Mark Stodola have also urged Hutchinson to veto the bill.

Like Indiana's SB 101, the Arkansas's HB 1228 states that the government must prove a higher standard of government interest in enforcing laws that infringe on the free exercise of a person's religion. Like the law in Indiana, the law in Arkansas applies to corporations, and opponents have warned that the bill would allow businesses to deny services to gays or lesbians.

After the wave of controversy over Indiana's bill, Pence appeared Tuesday to say he would support a change to the law that would make it clear businesses would not be allowed to deny services to gays and lesbians.

Similar legislation is on the books in a total of 20 states, although only Indiana's and South Carolina's laws apply to corporations. A federal law was signed by President Bill Clinton; that law was proposed after a Supreme Court ruling against two Native Americans who defended their taking of peyote on religious grounds.

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