Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has insisted that the state legislature revise a religious freedom bill it passed earlier this week, apparently hoping to minimize backlash from homosexual activists.
Arkansas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), based on a Clinton-era federal law of the same name, was passed Tuesday amid a firestorm of criticism over a similar law passed in Indiana and signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. Gay activists are calling both bills “anti-gay discrimination bills,” despite the fact that their wording differs only slightly from the federal RFRA.
The RFRA is designed to allow religious believers exemptions from certain laws that compel actions that violate their religious beliefs. The federal version was passed to protect a group of Native Americans who smoked peyote as part of their religious rituals from federal drug laws prohibiting the use of the substance. Since then, it has applied to numerous other situations, including Muslim prisoners who objected to rules requiring their faces to be clean-shaven, and Catholic pharmacists who refused to dispense abortifacients and contraceptives. More recently, the Supreme Court ruled in its Hobby Lobby decision that closely-held for-profit corporations owned by Christians could not be forced by the Obama administration to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs.
The federal RFRA is so vaguely written that different federal courts have come to different conclusions about who can use it for legal protection against whom. Some federal courts have ruled that the federal RFRA applies only to individuals who believe their religious rights have been infringed by the federal government. Others – including the Supreme Court in its Hobby Lobby decision – have interpreted the law to apply to any entity – individual, church, or corporation – that believes its religious rights are being violated.