Indiana and Arkansas legislatures pass controversial religious freedom bills

Indiana and Arkansas legislatures have drawn criticism for “religious freedom” legislation that could be used as a license to discriminate against gender and sexual minorities.

Both states have attempted to pass new laws that would apply terms similar to those of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to individual disputes in addition to government entities, Huffington Post reported.

Indiana’s proposed law would apply “regardless of whether the state or any governmental entity is a party to the proceeding,” Wall Street Journal reported.

The Federal RFRA states that the federal government cannot “burden” the exercise of religion without a “compelling” reason.

It was the federal RFRA, for example, that allowed Hobby Lobby to reject Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.

Employers with Obamacare are required to provide contraceptives that could destroy a fertilized egg, which some religious groups consider to be a living person.

Many states have their own versions of the RFRA. However, Indiana’s RFRA would make “religious freedom” a plausible defense in any lawsuit, Wall Street Journal reported.

One Indiana pizzeria refused to cater a same-sex wedding on the basis of the state’s RFRA.

Memories Pizza closed after owners said they received threatening messages.

The restaurant reopened April 9 after a GoFundMe for the establishment raised more than $800,000, Chicago Tribune and Huffington Post reported.

Proponents of the controversial law argue that orthodox Christians’ beliefs are so under attack that they need legal protection to successfully practice their beliefs.

They also argue that gender and sexual minorities who are refused service, such as the couple turned away by Memories Pizza, could go elsewhere.

Opponents say that making it the responsibility of the discriminated-against to actively seek out people who will not discriminate against them is morally wrong.

Opponents also argue that since businesses such as Memories Pizza are obligated to serve the public, they do not have the right to refuse to do so regardless of anyone’s beliefs, Huffington Post reported.

One influential opponent of the Indiana RFRA is Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.

Malloy said of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, “When you see a bigot, you have to call him on it…The reality is, the governor’s not a stupid man—but he’s done stupid things…Signing this law and, quite frankly, promoting the law knowing exactly what it was going to do was an incredibly stupid thing for him to do,” Politico reported.

Some notable entities opposed to the law include the NCAA, National Football League, National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association and NASCAR.

In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson has asked Arkansas General Assembly to recall House Bill 1228 (HB 1228).

Hutchinson said he wants Arkansas’ RFRA to mirror its federal equivalent, and that HB 1228 could have “a negative impact on our state’s image,” Reuters and Christian Science Monitor reported.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon took to Twitter to speak against HB 1228 when the bill passed the General Assembly.

“Every day in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,” McMillon said. “Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

It is illegal for the federal government to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Most states prohibit discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity or national origin. However, there are few on-the-books bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation, Wall Street Journal reported.

-Dionna Cheatham ’15, Junior Politics/Opinions Editor

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