Indiana, Arkansas governors sign amended ‘religious freedom’ bills

Indiana, Arkansas governors sign amended ‘religious freedom’ bills

[JURIST] Indiana Governor Mike Pence [official website] signed into law on Thursday an amended [text, PDF] version of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [text], which critics argued gave business owners the legal right to deny service based on sexual orientation. The amended legislation states that the religious freedom law does not authorize any business to refuse to provide service to any individual or customer based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, age, national origin, disability and military service. The legislation was proposed [JURIST report] earlier Thursday by Republican lawmakers and was approved by both the Indiana House and Senate before being signed into law. Churches and other nonprofit religious organizations are exempted. Also Thursday Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson [official website] of Arkansas signed an amended version [text, PDF] of a ‘religious freedom’ law [text, PDF] sent to him earlier this week. The considerable backlash from the Indiana bill may be the reason Hutchinson declined to sign a similar bill [JURIST report] until state lawmakers brought it more in line with federal legislation.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, as well as freedom of religious practice, remain controversial issues in the US. Nineteen other states have enacted some variety of religious freedom laws, most modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text] signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. At the time, Clinton stated [NYT report] that the law subjects the federal government to “a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.” Pence signed Indiana’s original controversial version into law after the state Senate approved [JURIST report] the bill by a 40-10 vote. Proponents of the bill, such as Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Daniel Conkle argue [Indianapolis Star op-ed] that it “protect[s] religious believers of all faiths by granting them precisely the same consideration [as the federal law.]” The bill’s strong opposition, however, argued that the law and those like it undermine the American spirit of inclusion.