Arkansas House approves ‘religious freedom’ bill

Arkansas House approves ‘religious freedom’ bill

[JURIST] The Arkansas House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday approved a controversial bill [HB 1228, PDF] intended to protect religious freedoms of businesses.Those supporting the Republican-backed bill 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.” Criticism of the bill has spread across the country with local business giants Walmart and Apple [corporate websites] voicing their opposition. A Walmart spokesperson stated, “[t]oday’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson [official website] said Wednesday that he will not sign the bill as is and will ask the legislature to make certain changes to mirror federal law.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights remain controversial throughout the US. Last week the Indiana Senate gave final approval [JURIST report] to a similar “religious freedom” bill, generating controversy across the nation. 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 Arkansas enacted a bill [JURIST report] that prohibits cities and local governments from establishing ordinances with anti-discrimination codes. Also in February Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rescinded [JURIST report] a number of executive orders by the former governor, including one that protected LGBT state employees from unfair hiring practices, sexual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.