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Arkansas Poised to Adopt Religious Freedom Law

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About a hundred or more protesters gathered on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol on Tuesday, March 31, 2015, after the Arkansas House approved a religious freedom measure similar to that recently signed into law by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. (Devon Sayers/CNN)

About a hundred or more protesters gathered on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol on Tuesday, March 31, 2015, after the Arkansas House approved a religious freedom measure similar to that recently signed into law by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. (Devon Sayers/CNN)

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas¬†— Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson now has to decide if he wants Mike Pence’s headache.

The Arkansas House on Tuesday approved a religious freedom measure that mirrors the one Pence signed into law in Indiana — sparking outrage from businesses, sports organizations and popular culture figures who said it opened the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Hutchinson, a Republican in his first year in office, said Monday that he’d sign the measure — but that was when lawmakers were still trying to find tweaks that ultimately eluded them.

“If this bill reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states then I will sign it,” he said then.

A Hutchinson spokesman told CNN that the governor will release a public statement announcing what he’s decided to do Wednesday morning — likely around 11:30 a.m. Eastern time. He said there will be no public signing ceremony.

The perils Hutchinson faces were made clear Tuesday morning when Pence insisted he’d “fix” Indiana’s law to make sure it doesn’t allow businesses like Christian florists or bakers to turn away gay and lesbian customers — which the bill’s conservative supporters had said was one of their chief goals.

“Was I expecting this kind of backlash? Heavens no,” Pence said.

Following Indiana, Arkansas becomes the second of what could be a spate of states to add religious freedom laws to their books this year. There are 14 other states considering similar proposals this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Advocates of the measures insist they’re simply mimicking what the federal government did under President Bill Clinton, and what 19 other states had already done.

But the context has changed. The Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling that could legalize same-sex marriage across the United States — and social conservatives have come to view religious freedom laws as the next frontier in the culture clash over gay rights.

And Indiana’s fight exposed another problem: Gays and lesbians lack the shield that a state anti-discrimination law that includes protections based on sexual orientation would offer — and Pence has said he’s not interested in changing that.

Making social conservatives’ case harder is the intense opposition from business communities. In Arkansas, home-state giant Walmart was a leading critic of the religious freedom bill.

The other states where religious freedom bills have been introduced are Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Those efforts have stalled, though, in North Carolina and Georgia.

A Georgia bill hit a roadblock when a House member successfully amended anti-discrimination language into it.

And in North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he won’t sign the measure into law, saying Monday in a radio interview that the proposal “makes no sense.”

“What is the problem they’re trying to solve?” McCrory said. “I haven’t seen it at this point in time.”

10 comments

  • John Smith

    The Indiana bill DID NOT PASS IN 20 OTHER STATES. The Arkansas Governor is LYING when he says so.

    Now, if we watch him sign this bill AFTER hearing from a lot of CEO’s in his state that he shouldn’t, we will know that his strings are being pulled from above, and that the intention of these states is to pass questionable bills and let the courts sort them out. Which is to say: They don’t care if the bill survives, they just want OTHERS to spend a lot of time and money telling them No. Note that neither the Governor nor the Legislators will have any skin in their game: None of them will have to go out-of-pocket to defend their bill in court, it is the taxpayers who will have to cough up for that part.

      • John Smith

        And, I thank YOU, SALLY, for reading them and commenting! Frankly, my main interest is factual discussion, not political spin. It is my opinion that the traditional media does this nation a grave disservice by repeating the spin of politicians without ever challenging it when it is not factual.

        Thanks again!

  • davis callahan

    STRAIGHT FROM THE BIBLE BELT: THAT LEADS THE COUNTRY IN POVERTY, OBESITY, VIOLENT CRIME, ILLITERACY AND WHO KNOWS WHAT ELSE !!!! MORE RELIGION….JUST WHAT WE NEED !!

      • John Smith

        Bill Clinton did NOT sign the same law as Mike Pence did, lying Dimwit. Get someone to help you read and understand the links I’ve posted for you, before you get your sorry butt kicked yet again.

      • marcopolish

        The readers have noted your tactics and style and have already decided it for you; as per usual. And no law should be used to bully and aggress on people to disenfranchise them of their constitutional AND statutory right to freedom of conscience. In your own totalitarian phantasy, perhaps, with elites like you treating yourself to a different, arbitrary standard; but really no where else does it make sense.

      • John Smith

        Actually, Dimwit, I reckon a number of readers have noticed YOUR tactic of NEVER standing behind the nonsense that you post, and NEVER answering a direct, factual challenge to it.

        Rush is on the radio; no one gets to challenge him. You may WANT to be like Rush, but this ain’t the AM radio and you ain’t near as smart.

      • marcopolish

        You always make it easy. Very kind of you to keep providing opportunities to reveal your true colors, as well as your hypocritical values and harsh baiting, while ignoring the issues once you’ve lost, time after time after time. Personal attacks ad hominem in hopes that people won’t notice you have quit the discussion without answering the points, again and again and again. All too easy.

      • sam

        You said bully, and this fits very well with Governor Branstad who is being sued by the former Ia Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey for bullying. Also our Governor is owned by the NRA..

Comments are closed.