Relaymedia

Arkansas Governor Set to Sign Religious Freedom Law Similar to Indiana's

( [email protected] ) Mar 31, 2015 07:13 PM EDT
In the wake of Indiana's Religious Freedom bill that has caused fire to reign down on Indiana Governor Mike Pence last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is poised to take the same criticism for signing a similar bill.
Demonstrators protest against a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Indiana's Governor Mike Pence. Photo: Reuters

 

In the wake of Indiana's Religious Freedom bill that has caused fire to reign down on Indiana Governor Mike Pence last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is poised to take the same criticism for signing a similar bill.

 

The Arkansas House approved the bill today that would allow businesses to defend their rights on who they will or won't serve based on religious reasons. The same law has been passed in 19 other states, making Indiana the 20th and Arkansas potentially the 21st. That would be 42% of the country, including the federal government, backing this type of law. And as it sits, 14 other states are considering enacting a similar law.

"If this bill reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states then I will sign it," said Governor Hutchinson, adding in a separate statement over the weekend, "What company is going to boycott 20 states?"

The governor is expected to announce his final decision about signing the bill on Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, but there will be no public signing ceremony.

So what is it about Indiana's and Arkansas's bills that has so many people up in arms? The largest difference is in who can file the claim and under what circumstances. According to the Arkansas Times, "Unlike the federal RFRA or state laws modeled on it, the Indiana law - just like Arkansas's HB 1228 - expressly allows for a private individual (or, at least in the Arkansas law, an 'association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity') to file a claim under RFRA even when the government isn't a party to the claim."

The original Religious Freedom Act law was signed by President Clinton in 1993 to prohibit government from "substantially burdening" the exercise of religious by individuals, and these new state laws share much of that same wording. 

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has already began to backpedal on his state's law, saying that he plans to "fix" the law to clarify that it won't allow for discrimination against gays and lesbians.

"It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," Pence said in a press conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday. Many conservatives feel that these types of changes to the law would essentially cancel what it was originally intended to protect: religious freedom.

"We see business leaders saying that they are reluctant to do business in a state where their customers or even their employees could be subjected to greater discrimination just because of who they love," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday.

"That's not fair. It's not consistent with our values as a country that we hold dear," he continued. "And I think that's what has provoked the strong outcry, and I think it's what has provoked the previously defiant governor to consider a position of changing the law."

"Was I expecting this kind of backlash? Heavens no," Pence said. So far, a host of 2016 presidential contenders have defended Pence, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Ted Cruz.