Governor wants ‘Religious freedom’ for Arkansas

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson wants Indiana’s religious freedom law for his state too.

In the wake of Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law, Republican Governor Hutchinson has expressed his support for the similar bill currently making its way through the Arkansas legislature. The proposals are expected to go before the Senate today.

Indiana’s new law – signed in by Governor Mike Pence yesterday – allows organisations, such as businesses and churches, to discriminate against people if they have a religious objection. It is feared it will increase discrimination against LGBT people, and hurt business in the state. Many organisations, including gaming convention GenCon, have said they are considering moving out of the state in reaction to the law.

Gov Hutchinson previously said he would neither veto nor sign the bill, thereby allowing it to become law by default. He said the bill made him “concerned about the loss of local control”. However he now supports the more recent draft of the bill. At a press conference he said: “I think it’s a bill that puts a high priority on religious freedom and recognizes that as a part of the balance”.

While many supporters of “religious freedom” laws have avoided mentioning LGBT people specifically, State Representative Mary Bentley, who supports the bill, said: “We should be honest and truthful — we like to beat around the bush up here. I am concerned about things happening across our state.

“A baker who loves the word of God … should not have his or her business destroyed if someone who is transgender is trying to marry somebody else.

“I am a Christian in the United States of America. It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough. They can do what they want to do, but we don’t have to destroy a business. I think it’s time that business owners have rights as well.”

Republican Senator Bart Hester has sponsored the bill, along with a number of other anti-gay measures. He told Buzzfeed that no businesses or organisations had asked for the law, but none had objected to it either – “In our world if they are not opposing you, that is almost a sign of support”. He believes businesses should have the right to fire gay people for being gay, and recently backed a bill that bans local authorities from making laws to protect LGBT people against discrimination.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said: “This is a concerted effort by a hateful political faction to say that Arkansas does not welcome all its citizens, sending a clear message that this state is not open for business and all this is happening on Gov. Hutchinson’s watch.”

He said that the newer draft was no better for LGBT people – “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”.