Arkansas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law April 2, mirroring the 1993 federal law.
The initial bill was opposed by groups that believed it went too far and could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. When the state’s House and Senate approved that bill, Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign it and asked the representatives and senators to amend it to the exact language of the federal law.
On April 2 Hutchinson signed the revised bill, which prohibits the Arkansas government from substantially burdening people’s ability to practice their religion.
The Indiana legislature was also under scrutiny for its version of the religious freedom act.
The Indiana Catholic Conference's executive director expressed concern about the "polarization" of discussion about the state's religious freedom law, saying the Catholic bishops' April 1 statement "was an attempt to bring people to a dialogue to help each other know that we're not in conflict."
Indiana's five bishops urged "mutual respect" be shown in the debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, "to ensure that no one in Indiana will face discrimination whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs."
"As the statement indicates, this isn't an either-or kind of situation at all," said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Catholic conference, which represents the Church in the state on matters of law and public policy.
"The Church's support for religious freedom, as well as the dignity of all persons, is a fundamental principle of the Church. It's not a matter of one or the other. It's a matter of having both of them right beside one another," he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the religious freedom measure into law March 26. Based on Pence’s concerns, the bill was overhauled April 2 and sent to the governor for his signature.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor issued the following statement after the governor signed the bill into law.
“This week the effort to enact an Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act was closely followed and analyzed within and outside our state. Those ‘for’ and ‘against’ the proposed bill passionately lobbied for their positions. In the end Gov. Asa Hutchison had to decide what was best for Arkansas. He used wisdom and prudence in calling for a state law that closely mirrored the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 that was passed and signed with scarcely an objection.
“In the United States religious liberty is our first and most cherished liberty. It is a God-given right protected by our nation’s Constitution, federal law and now state law. Not only Catholics, but people of all religious faiths and worshipping communities in our country need to be free to live their faith and act according to their conscience without fear of government interference. All people of good will need to be vigilant in protecting our fundamental right of religious freedom. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is but one of the mechanisms our nation uses to balance the competing but legitimate interests of citizens in our pluralistic society.
“There are some who view the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act as an attempt to condone invidious discrimination against LGBT persons based on religious beliefs, which the Catholic Church strongly opposes and which the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not in fact do. Choosing not to participate in certain ceremonies or activities due to religious convictions is not discrimination against the persons involved, nor is it necessarily an expression of hatred toward the persons involved. Rather, it is very simply a choice to abstain from participating in conduct or actions that may be irreconcilable with one’s sincere religious beliefs, and it is the right to abstain from these actions which the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act seeks to protect. The Catholic Church teaches and believes that all persons (including LGBT persons) have an inherent worth and dignity, and that all persons, precisely because they are persons, should be accorded dignity and respect.”
Catholic News Service contributed to this article.
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