Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson may have called for changes to his state’s recently-passed religious freedom legislation, but he certainly isn’t giving activists and the press a free pass to paint Arkansas’ RFRA with the wrong brush.
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial, but these are not ordinary times,” he said during a press briefing earlier today. Hutchinson didn’t concede to arguments made by progressives and LGBT activists that the bill is a tool businesses can use to facilitate discrimination against gay people, but he did publicly ask the legislature to clarify language in the bill.
From the AP:
“What is important from an Arkansas standpoint is one, we get the right balance and secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Hutchinson initially supported the bill and on Tuesday his office had said he planned to sign it into law.
The move comes after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar measure into law last week. Pence this week said he wants follow-up legislation to address concerns that the law allows businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Hutchinson didn’t specifically call for changes that would prohibit the law from being used to deny services to someone, but said he didn’t believe the bill was intended to do so.
“This law that is under consideration does not extend discrimination,” Hutchinson said.
Of course it doesn’t, but that hasn’t stopped activists from claiming that it does.
19 other states have similar RFRA laws on the books, and several more have proposed state-based pieces of legislation that mirror 1993’s federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act—but you’d never know it based on the fit currently being pitched in the court of public opinion. As Jay Caruso wrote yesterday, much of this boils down to the politics of the moment, with multiple parties guilty of flying by the seat of their pants with regards to what these RFRA laws actually do.
Hutchinson is playing his cards close to the chest, and doing what I think Indiana Governor Mike Pence was trying to do during his arguably disastrous press conference yesterday. Fortunately for Hutchinson, he hasn’t had to walk much back, and is taking palliative steps to keep the madding crowd at bay while his caucus fiddles with semantics:
Hutchinson asked lawmakers to recall the law that the Arkansas House had given final approval on Tuesday — or to send him follow-up legislation that makes the changes he requested.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson said, he’s considering signing an executive order that bars discrimination among the state’s workforce.
“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,” Hutchinson said. “It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.”
So, we’re fiddling, we’re tweaking—but we’re not making any substantive changes. Bravo, Mr. Governor, for being a more skilled wordsmith than many others who have thrown support behind RFRA legislation.
We’ll see what the legislature does with it, and keep you posted on the bill’s progress.DONATE
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