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Little Rock, Ark. —
Gov. Asa Hutchinson in a press conference today did not veto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act but instead sought a recall of the legislation to amend it to bring it in line with the federal
Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton. Saying that his own son signed a petition asking him to veto HB 1228. The governor further said that the central issue of discrimination due to sexual orientation should be handled by a amendment to the state constitution and a popular vote.
The Arkansas House of Representatives Tuesday voted in favor of sending HB 1228, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk.
The bill, according to the Arkansas ACLU, would allow anyone to claim that they have a right to refuse to follow laws that protect against harm or discrimination.
The Arkansas RFRA is similar to the controversial bill that passed in Indiana last week despite strong opposition from the local and national business communities. Widespread discontent was voiced even after Indiana RFRA became law by leadership at Apple, Yelp, PayPal, and sports organizations the NBA, WNBA and NCAA who are concerned that the discriminatory law will have a negative effect on the state’s economy and ability to attract talent.
“The legislature and governor of Arkansas should heed the economic damage and vocal public outcry that Indiana is facing and stop this bill in its tracks,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Religious freedom is a fundamental value, but it should not be used to justify harm or discrimination against others.”
If the bill becomes law, it can be used in litigation between two private parties and can be used to challenge “likely” burdens on religious exercise, potentially meaning, before a burden is actually imposed.
The RFRA is sponsored by the same duo of lawmakers as the Intrastate Commerce and Improvement Act, SB 202, which preempts local nondiscrimination policies and prevents equal protection. SB 202 was introduced in response to Fayetteville, Ark. passing nondiscrimination ordinances that protected LGBT people.
The Arkansas RFRA is one of 24 introduced in 15 states this year that could allow someone to use their religious beliefs to discriminate.
Also today, Doug McMillan, Walmart CEO, issued a statement on HB1228:
“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve.
“Today’s passage of HB 1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.
“For these reasons, we are asking Gov. Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”
Gov. Hutchinson plans to issue a statement on the issue at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Other various organizations, including Arkansas Citizens First Congress, plan to be in Little Rock Wednesday to present petitions opposing HB1228 or otherwise protest it.