LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (MEDIA GENERAL) – “We want to be known as a state that does not discriminate and understands tolerance. Making this law like the federal law will aide us in this communication,” Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said during a midday news conference.
The legislature in Arkansas just passed its version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is very similar to Indiana’s law that has created a firestorm across the country including threats from businesses to pull business from that state. On Tuesday, Indiana’s governor promised to “fix” the law.
With the bill sitting on his desk, Governor Hutchinson announced Wednesday he is asking the legislature to recall the bill and make changes to it so that it exactly mirrors the federal legislation signed into law by Bill Clinton.
The Arkansas bill as it currently sits is not exactly like the federal law. Specifically, like Indiana, it allows the RFRA to be used to defend discrimination in in private litigation. The federal law only applies when the federal government is involved in a dispute.
“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial. But, these are not ordinary times,” Gov. Hutchinson admitted. “The bill itself does not pick winners or losers. But, the issue has become divisive because our nation remains split of how to balance the diversity of our culture with our deeply held religious convictions.”
Gov. Hutchinson even admitted that his son signed a petition asking his dad to veto the bill. “There is a generational difference on this issue,” he said.
The governor also indicated he may consider using an executive order to protect against discrimination in the workplace. But, he didn’t elaborate on what that could look like. “Arkansas wants to be a place of tolerance,” the governor said.