US & Canada

Arkansas governor asks lawmakers to reconsider 'religion law'

Man in military uniform with sign that reads "Thanks Governor" Image copyright Getty Images

The governor of Arkansas has called for changes to a "religious freedom" bill after a similar law in Indiana has drawn a firestorm of criticism.

Wal-Mart and other companies had urged Governor Asa Hutchinson not to sign the bill.

Critics of the bill say it could be used to discriminate against gay people because it gives business owners a legal defence based on their faith.

Hundreds in Arkansas have protested against the measure this week.

The governor said he wanted the state's legislature to either recall the bill or pass additional legislation that would bring it more in line with a 1993 federal law from which it is modelled.

In recent days, Mr Hutchinson has come out in support of the bill and on Tuesday his office said he planned on signing it.

"I don't believe in a workplace that discriminates," Mr Hutchinson said.

Image copyright Danny Johnston
Image caption Mr Hutchinson said there is a "generational difference of opinion" on issues related to the law
Image copyright Andrea Morales
Image caption Gay rights supporters have protested outside the capitol building in Little Rock

Mr Hutchinson noted that his son was among those that signed a petition asking him to veto the bill.

"It shows that there is a generational difference of opinion on these issues," he said in reference to his son.

The governor has also faced pressure from his state's top employers, including Wal-Mart, which said that the measure would harm economic development.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the bill's passage threatened "to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

Indiana lawmakers have conceded that their law needed to be clarified to make clear that it did not legalise discrimination against gays. The governor said he wanted a "fix" by the end of the week.


Image copyright AP
Image caption Miley Cyrus called Indiana's law "unevolved & unjust"

The law's critics...

Sport: National Collegiate Athletic Association, NBA, basketball players Charles Barkley and Jason Collins, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova

Business: Angie's List, Yelp, Warren Buffett, Apple, Gap, Levi's

Politics: White House, Hillary Clinton, governors of New York, Connecticut and Washington state, cities San Francisco, Indianapolis and Seattle

Celebrities: Miley Cyrus, George Takei, Larry King


Twenty states have similar laws, with varying protections for gays.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, was originally intended to protect religious minorities from government intrusion. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the law did not apply on the state level, which spurred more than a dozen states to pass local versions.

But a wave of recent legal rulings has brought same-sex marriage to more states and has renewed interest in religious freedom restoration acts.

Some proponents say the bills would protect business people who object to serving gay people for religious reasons. Others including Indiana Governor Mike Pence insist that was not purpose of the bills.

Unlike the federal law, the Indiana version explicitly applies the law's protections to businesses in addition to people.

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