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Gov. Rejects Arkansas Religious Freedom Bill

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 02, 2015 12:50 PM

On March 26, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he supported the state senate approved Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and would sign it into law: "I think it's a bill that puts a higher emphasis on religious freedom."

Less than a week later, Gov. Hutchinson rejected the bill after the Arkansas house passed it, and threatened the use of an executive order to change the bill if the legislature failed to do so.

So what happened over the weekend to send not one but two state governors moonwalking at light speed back from bills their state legislators passed with overwhelming majorities?

Opposing Movements

It's no accident or coincidence that the rejuvenation of RFRAs, and their use as a legal protection for discrimination, comes at the same time that courts are expanding LGBT rights in the form of gay marriage rights. But Arkansas and Indiana made two crucial changes that landed the states and their governors in a political firestorm.

First, they failed to read the political tea leaves. Both states either underestimated or didn't estimate at all the political backlash of passing RFRAs, especially from the business community. Indiana's law was criticized by everyone from Apple to the NCAA, and even the Arkansas-based, conservative-leaning mega corporation Wal-Mart blasted Arkansas's version.

Second, it seems they also failed to read the bills. Both Indiana and Arkansas legislation differs substantially from RFRAs passed by other states and the one passed by the federal government in 1993, which were confined to government burdens on the free exercise of religion. Legal experts believe that these differences would give a private claim of burden, thus allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers.

Which Way to Go?

Indiana's Gov. Mike Pence also sent his state's RFRA back to the legislature, albeit after he signed it. Pence and Hutchinson are hoping that the same state legislators that so easily handed the governors bills they asked for will now provide political cover by redrafting legislation they almost unanimously passed.

In other words, this story won't be over any time soon. Especially given that 10 other states have similar bills in the works.

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