Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Laws in both Indiana and Arkansas speak to a national trend of similar legislation that have tried to enshrine legal protections to discriminate—especially against gays and lesbians—under the guise of 'religious freedom.' (Photo: NBC News)

In Reversal, Arkansas Governor Says He Won't Sign Pro-Discrimination Bill

Despite Indiana fallout, Arkansas legislature had approved measure which critics say would sanction second-class treatment of gays, lesbians, and others

Jon Queally

Update (11:55 AM EST): Gov. Asa Hutchinson won't sign controversial bill in its current form

In a reversal, Republican Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday he won't sign a controversial 'Religious Liberty' bill into law unless changes are made that make it clear the measure does not authorize discrimination. The bill passed by Arkansas legislators on Wednesday mirrors enacted in Indiana last week that created a national backlash and a wave of criticism against similar laws in other states.

CNN reports:

The first-term Republican governor said he wants his state "to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance."

His decision comes in the wake of an uproar in Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence has faced pressure from businesses, sports associations like the NCAA and popular culture figures to backtrack on a similar religious freedom law he signed last week. In Arkansas, it's been Walmart heaping apply the most pressure.

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."

Earlier (7:55 AM EST):

Despite the national outcry and political fallout from a similar bill in Indiana, the Republican-controlled Arkansas state legislature passed the so-called 'Religious Liberty' law on Tuesday, sending it to the desk of  Governor Asa Hutchinson for final approval.

Like the controversial new law in Indiana, aka the 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act' (or RFRA), the proposed measure which received final approval by both the Arkansas House and Senate says, in part, that "state action shall not substantially burden a person's right to exercise of religion." However, critics point out that those protections for religious freedom already exist and that what the law is really trying to do is offer legal cover, under the guise of religion, to those who would discriminate against others—particularly gays and lesbians—of whom they disapprove.

"Religious freedom is a fundamental value, but it should not be used to justify harm or discrimination against others," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, which opposes the bill.

With the bill now officially on the desk of Gov. Hutchinson, also a Republican, the only way to stop it from becoming law is to issue a veto. His other choices include signing it into law, or doing nothing, in which case the bill automatically becomes law after five days. Hutchison has voiced support for the law and indicated he will sign it, but the ongoing controversy and outcry over the law in Indiana may at least give him pause.

As the Huffington Post reports:

Arkansas is about to enter the same minefield that Indiana has been trapped in since Pence signed his religious freedom bill last week. In Indiana, major companies like Twitter and the NCAA, as well as celebrities like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Miley Cyrus, have spoken out against the law.

In Arkansas, both Walmart and Acxiom, a big data company, have spoken out against the legislation. The Democratic mayor of Little Rock also warned Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Tuesday that "any piece of legislation that is so divisive cannot possibly be good for the state of Arkansas and its people."

But Hutchinson appears unfazed by these concerns. Last week, he vowed that he would sign the legislation: "Arkansas is open for business, and we recognize and respect the diversity of our culture and economy," he said in a statement.

On behalf of the ACLU, Sklar said, "The legislature and governor of Arkansas should heed the economic damage and vocal public outcry that Indiana is facing and stop this bill in its tracks."

If signed into law, Arkansas would become one of 21 states which have passed some version of the RFRA. As a national trend, LGBTQ rights groups and civil liberties advocates see it largely as backlash against the wave of legal victories won for same-sex marriage in recent years.

As the New York Times explained in a Q&A on the issue:

Many of those who pushed for Indiana’s law have explicitly said that they hope it will protect vendors who refuse to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, helping them avoid actions that according to their beliefs are onerous and sinful. Less clear is how often that might occur, and how often those vendors might win in court.

To civil rights advocates, “religious freedom,” in this case, is code for simple discrimination and would not only inconvenience gay and lesbian couples, but also would relegate them to a form of second-class status. Those selling to the public should not be able to turn away customers because of their own private beliefs, these advocates say; the vendor is, after all, selling flowers, and is not required to embrace the beliefs of the customers. These critics ask: How would the public respond if businesses offered religious reasons for refusing to serve interracial couples?


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo