Arkansas Gov. Asks Legislature to Make State RFRA Just Like Federal Law

By Susan Jones | April 1, 2015 | 12:02pm EDT

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) (AP File Photo)

( - Arkansas Gov. Asa  Hutchinson  is asking the state legislature to make changes in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so it's just like the federal law signed more than 20 years ago.

"The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely  mirror the federal law," the governor said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"Therefore I asked that changes be made in the legislation. And I've asked  the leaders of the General Assembly to recall the bill so it can be amended so it can reflect the terms of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

The Arkansas bill passed yesterday, amid the uproar over a similar bill in Indiana. The Indiana RFRA is broader than federal law, and it has been widely mischaracterized as a license to discriminate.

Hutchinson described the Arkansas bill as a "balancing test."

"The bill itself does not pick winners and losers. It balances two competing constitutional obligations that our Founding Fathers gave to us. But the issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the the traditional and firmly-held religious convictions."

The governor said his own family has been divided by what he called a generation gap:  "My own son Seth signed a petition asking me, Dad the governor, to veto this bill."

Hutchinson said he supported a state religious freedom bill because the federal law, signed by Bill Clinton in 1993, does not cover state causes of action. But he said he wanted the state bill to be crafted so it's similar to the federal law.

"My responsibility is to speak out on my own convictions and to do what I can as governor to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas, protects those of religious conscience, but also minimizes the chance of discrimination in the workplace and in the public environment."

Hutchinson said the challenge is to make the world understand that "we are respectful of a diverse workplace and we want to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance."  

Making this law like the federal law will help accomplish that, he said.

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