Mar 31, 2015
An Arkansas bill that claims to protect “religious freedom” is little more than an attempt to shield religious fundamentalists who want to discriminate against LGBT persons, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. The Arkansas House of Representatives today passed HB 1228, which is a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 law intended to protect religious minorities. But Arkansas’s version of RFRA is similar to the recent controversial measure passed in Indiana because it, too, states that virtually all corporations, even those that are not closely held, are “persons” with religious freedom rights. Additionally, it allows lawsuits even when the government is not involved. “This measure is not about protecting religious freedom,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It is a clear attempt by the Religious Right and its allies to justify their discriminatory future refusals to serve all members of their communities.” Aspects of the Arkansas bill are even more troubling than Indiana’s RFRA. Like the federal RFRA, Arkansas’s RFRA states that the government cannot “substantially burden” religion, but unlike the federal law, “substantial burden” is defined as virtually anything that inhibits religious practice. It also states that government may not infringe upon religion unless doing so would be “essential.”     HB 1228 previously passed the Arkansas Senate last week and now awaits the signature of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Americans United strongly urges Hutchinson to veto this measure. “I urge the governor to recognize the bill for what it is: a monument to discrimination against the LGBT community,” Lynn said. “It will also be an avenue to support refusal of service to religious minorities, atheists, unmarried pregnant women and any other group deemed immoral by bigoted religious business owners.”