Evidently, Republican lawmakers in the great state of Arkansas have learned absolutely nothing from the fallout currently taking place in Indiana after lawmakers there passed a bill legalizing discrimination against gay people, because yesterday they voted for their own “religious freedom” bill and–guess what? — it passed!
The bill sailed through the Arkansas Legislature and is currently on its merry way to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk, where it is expected to be signed without delay.
Just like Indiana’s law, Arkansas’ “religious freedom” bill grants business owners the right to discriminate against anyone — gay, Muslim, female, you name it — who they feel “substantially burdens” their religious beliefs, whatever the hell that means.
During Monday’s committee hearing, some lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill may infringe upon people’s civil rights, so they proposed a solution: adding a non-discrimination disclaimer to the legislation.
But Rep. Bob Ballinger (R), the bill’s proud author, said that would be “too confusing,” since people have different definitions of discrimination.
“If that means that you can force somebody who has deeply held religious beliefs to engage in some activity that violates their deeply held religious beliefs, and that the state has the right to force them into doing it, I can’t say that I do agree with that,” he said.
Gov. Hutchinson seems giddy to sign the bill the moment it hits his desk. In a statement last week, he said: “Arkansas is open for business, and we recognize and respect the diversity of our culture and economy” before adding, proudly: “I will sign this bill.”
UPDATE: Gov. Hutchinson has backtracked on last week’s promise to sign the bill. At a press conference held earlier today, he told reporters: “The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions. It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.” Therefore, he added, “changes need to be made. The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law.”