Arkansas Senate approves ‘religious freedom’ bill

Arkansas Senate approves ‘religious freedom’ bill

[JURIST] The Arkansas Senate [official website] on Friday approved a controversial bill [bill backgrounder] intended to protect religious freedoms of businesses. Those supporting the Republican-backed say it will protect religious freedoms for businesses, and those opposed say that businesses may be allowed to go too far with the law and refuse service to homosexuals. The bill states that “governments should not substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.” Supporters stated [Reuters report] that a business should not be forced to, for example, cater a same-sex wedding if doing so would violate the religious beliefs of the owner. Those opposed to the bill include local business giants Walmart [corporate website] and Apple [official website]. A Walmart spokesperson stated, “We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights remain controversial throughout the US. Last week the Indiana Senate gave final approval [JURIST report] to a “religious freedom” bill that would allow business owners to turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation. Earlier this month Utah lawmakers unveiled legislation [JURIST report] that aims to balance religious rights and protections against LGBT discrimination in the workplace and housing. In February an Arkansas enacted a bill, similar to the bill enacted Friday in that it prohibits cities and local governments from establishing ordinances with anti-discrimination codes became law [JURIST report] when Asa Hutchinson declined to veto it. Also in February Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rescinded [JURIST report] a number of executive orders by the former governor, including one that protected LGBT state employees from unfair hiring practices, sexual harassment and other types of discrimination at work.