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May 4, 2015

Governor Signs Religious Freedom Bill

Dee Black Senior Counsel Dee Black answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Arkansas. He and his wife homeschooled their children.

On April 2, 2015, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law Senate Bill 975, thereby creating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arkansas. This was not the religious freedom bill that initially passed the legislature, House Bill 1228, because Governor Hutchinson refused to sign that bill due to concerns expressed by others that it would be used to discriminate against homosexuals. While there were some differences in the bills, neither one contained any provisions indicating any intent to discriminate against homosexuals.

The language of the bill signed by the governor is patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. This bill had strong bipartisan support in the Congress with Senator Ted Kennedy, a leading liberal, serving as co-sponsor of the legislation. Additionally, the ACLU and the People for the American Way supported the federal bill, acknowledging the importance of individual freedom in the exercise of religion.

Liberals’ support of the federal bill in 1993 and their opposition to the bills recently passed by the Arkansas Legislature is no indication that the new state law contains objectionable language in support of religious freedom. Rather, opposition to religious freedom bills now being experienced across the nation is simply a reflection of the shift in cultural values in the past 20 years or so.

Most of the boots-on-the-ground work to get the religious freedom bill through the legislature and signed by the governor was done by the Arkansas Family Council, which labored tirelessly on behalf of all people of faith. Because of this, there is no doubt that religious liberty in Arkansas is much better protected now than it was before SB 975 was enacted.

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