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House members also approved a bill that bars the state or local governments from placing a “substantial burden” on a person’s right to exercise their religion. Ballinger said the measure would, for example, protect a Muslim butcher who doesn’t want to work with pork or a Christian who doesn’t want to perform a same-sex wedding.
“This does not create a get out of jail free card,” Ballinger said. “You have to prove it truly is a legitimate deeply held religious belief.”
That legislation is patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have similar laws and 10 states are currently considering them.
Article continues belowThe authors of both bills approved Friday by the Arkansas House said they were inspired to change state law after the Fayetteville City Council in August made it illegal to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity. City voters overturned that rule in December.
Eureka Springs rushed through a similar ordinance on Monday, but it would be negated when the state law takes effect.
Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union, said the bills passed Friday promote discrimination and will harm the state economy.
“Talented people are not going to want to move to a place with such laws,” Sklar said.
Developing story. This report will be updated.
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