Editorial: Religious freedom law revisions point to progress


Courtesy of Arkansas Governor's office

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Editorial Board

Following the wave of controversy and criticism surrounding the religious freedom laws signed in Indiana, politicians in the Arkansas State Senate have decided they wouldn’t mind getting a piece of the (potentially bigoted) action.

A bill similar to the original Indiana law was sent to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk, but it seems after seeing the monumental scrutiny that has been applied to his colleague from the North, Hutchinson sent the bill, which had the same grey area as Indiana’s in that it could have potentially made legal the discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation, back to the Senate and made sure that the proper revisions were made to ensure the law would be explicitly non-discriminatory. The new and improved bill then made it’s way back to Hutchinson’s desk and was signed as the new law of the land.

Arkansas and Indiana are not the only two states with laws exactly like or similar to the new religious freedom initiatives — 20 other states have similar laws — but the timing of Indiana’s decision and how quickly Arkansas jumped into the fire placed immense pressure on the two states to get the correct revisions of these laws. And it seems both states have done the best job possible in preserving the individual rights of every citizen within their states.

Watching Arkansas make this kind of preemptive move to ensure there is no grey area in its religious freedom bill can be seen as a step in the right direction for equal civil rights for gays. Unfortunately, what has happened in Indiana has become a prime example of how not to propose — and sign — legislation with areas that could lead to discrimination. Prior to signing the bill, Hutchinson sent the bill back to the state Senate to ensure there was no grey area that could be seen as OK’ing discrimination against gays.

Indiana might have gotten away with the first bill 10 or 15 years ago, which was consequently signed into law. But the civil rights movement for all people, gays and straights, to be treated and served equally, showed laws like Indiana’s first try would not be tolerated. As a country, we stood up to Indiana’s bigotry and made lawmakers reconsider what their law actually was saying. Arkansas is now making sure it doesn’t make the same mistake. Hutchinson is making the appropriate strides to ensure people in Arkansas are allowed to express their religious freedoms and at the same time not limiting the rights of gays within the state. Other parts of the country, including Indiana, should be taking notes on how to do this right.

It’s OK to ensure everyone has their freedoms protected by law. That’s what this country was founded upon. But lawmakers have to ensure that when protecting one person’s freedoms it isn’t limiting the freedoms of another.