American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson yesterday announced he would veto a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed this week by the state legislature because it does not sufficiently mirror the federal law of the same name. Concerns that the bill would empower businesses to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation have led to nationwide controversy over the Arkansas legislation and a similar measure recently passed in Indiana.

As a result, the Arkansas legislature has quickly passed a new bill, SB 975, which very closely mirrors the federal RFRA. You can read the new Senate bill here, and the federal RFRA here. The new Arkansas measure passed the Senate on a 26-0 vote (with 7 not voting) and the House on a 76-17 vote, sending the new bill to the Governor. [UPDATE: The Governor signed the bill into law.]

The previous Arkansas bill explicitly allow claims and defenses to be brought under RFRA in suits between private parties, not just when government is involved. It also included potentially troubling definitions that seemed to tilt the careful balance of RFRA in favor of religious objectors. See the BJC’s statement explaining problems in the earlier Arkansas legislation here.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the process to fix its RFRA law has moved more slowly and with more signs of division. The Indianapolis Star reports the new proposal “specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” adding that Democratic House committee members were removed from a vote to allow the measure to pass on to the full House and Senate.

[UPDATE: Governor Mike Pence signed the bill after the legislature approved it. The Indiana House passed the law on a 66-30 vote. The Indiana Senate approved, 34-16.]

You can read the language of the new Indiana measure here.

Unlike Arkansas’ fix, which would replace the previous measure with the new bill mirroring the federal law, Indiana’s legislature is attempting to pass an additional clarifying law that would leave the recently enacted RFRA in place.

Follow along the bills in both Arkansas and Indiana, as well as other state RFRA proposals around the country at the State RFRA Bill Tracker. For more general information about the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, see the BJC’s information page here.