On the heels of blistering backlash against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana lawmakers approved an adaptation of their discriminatory law this afternoon, while Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed a similar bill into law.
As Rachel pointed out this morning, Arkansas’ new bill is tweaked version of the on the one that passed in the state House on Tuesday, but fearing public outcry and economic repercussions like those facing the state of Indiana, Hutchinson asked his legislature to make the bill mirror a similar one passed in 1993 and signed into law under President Clinton. His own son and Walmart — Walmart, okay? — asked Hutchinson not to sign the original bill. The modified bill states that the government cannot “substantially burden” a person or business when they are practicing their “free exercise of religion.”
The law does not specifically ban discrimination of gay people, however, so LGBT rights organizations aren’t pleased with the minor revisions. The Human Rights Campaign released an immediate statement, saying:
Though an improvement, the legislation can still be used as a weapon to discriminate against LGBT people, people of color, minority faiths, women and other Arkansans at risk. The earlier legislation, H.B. 1228, is still on Governor Hutchinson’s desk, and HRC calls on the Arkansas House to recall that hateful bill immediately. HRC also calls on Governor Hutchinson to make good on his suggestion yesterday and issue an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination.
In Indiana, the House and the Senate tag-teamed to “fix” their religious freedom bill, at the behest of Governor Mike Pence, who also continued to insist there was nothing wrong with the bill he signed earlier in the week. The new draft states that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to refuse service to gay people or other minority groups. Pence has not signed it yet, and his office has refused comment on whether or not he intends to do so.
But most LGBT advocates feel like only a full repeal of the law will do. Angie’s List, an Indiana-based business that has put a $40 million expansion on hold because of the new law, has been a strong opponent of RFRA and isn’t happy with the new wording.
Our position is that this “fix” is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.
Hillary Clinton is unimpressed with both states.
Like IN law, AR bill goes beyond protecting religion, would permit unfair discrimination against #LGBT Americans. I urge Governor to veto.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 1, 2015
In this morning’s Daily Fix, Rachel talked about how North Carolina has momentarily shelved a similar religious freedom law, and is probably waiting to see how Arkansas and Indiana’s fates shake out before they proceed.
The next few weeks should be interesting.