Politics

Arkansas Senate Passes Controversial Religious Protection Bill

| by Ethan Brown
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In wake of the major controversy surrounding Indiana lawmakers over passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week, state legislators in Arkansas have also passed a new law similar to the Indiana legislation in question.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) has already stated his intent to sign the legislation, formally known as HB1228. 

Much like in Indiana, the concern over the new Arkansas law is that the legislation can be used to discriminate against gay individuals by allowing business owners to refuse service to anyone based on the owners’ religious beliefs.

One of the more vocal critics of the Arkansas law is Doug McMillian, an Arkansas native and the CEO of Walmart. He publicly chastised the legislation on Tuesday (Mar. 31).

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“Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we properly uphold. For those reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation,” McMillian said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,” he continued. “It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual.”

Other Arkansas-based organizations, such as The Arkansas Municipal League and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, have voiced their opposition to the legislation, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The legislation was passed by the Arkansas State House on Feb. 13 by a 72-20 vote, with Democrats opposing.  The state Senate voted in favor, 24-7, according to ABC News.

According to the text of the law, the state would not be permitted to “substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion” unless it must be done “to further a compelling state interest.”

State lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation have continued to support it, despite the increasing negative attention they are receiving.

“You certainly cannot legislate meanness in certain people, and people are going to be mean whether we have this law or not,” said State Senator Bart Hester (R).

Those who opposed the law provided commentary on it as well, including state Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D).

“Having grown up in the South all my life, I know that religious freedom has meant that slavery was OK, it has meant that Jim Crow was OK, it has meant that it was OK to keep people from achieving that which they deserved. It is impossible for me having suffered from that religious freedom in a negative way to fail to say that we are better than this,” she said prior to the vote.

As previously mentioned, the Arkansas bill loosely follows the controversial bill in Indiana, passed late last week. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has backtracked somewhat in his support for his state’s legislation, vowing to “fix” the law to include specifics so that the LGBT cannot be discriminated against.

Sources: ABC News, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons