Arkansas House panel advances ‘religious freedom’ bill cast as anti-LGBT

As of yet, Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't include sexual orientation or gender identity.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Opponents of an Arkansas “religious freedom” measure that they say will allow widespread discrimination against LGBT individuals filled the state Capitol on Monday to protest the bill as it neared a final vote.

The GOP-heavy House Judiciary Committee endorsed an amended version of the proposal, which would prohibit state and local government from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” government interest. The House could take up the measure as soon as Tuesday.

Holding signs that read “Discrimination is not a Christian Value” and “Discrimination is a Disease,” protesters chanted “Shame on You” at the lawmaker behind the proposal.

“This is not nearly as exciting a law change as what I think a lot of people think it is,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville told the panel before the vote. “However, what it does is it does create a situation where we can protect people’s religious practices, let people believe what they want to believe.”

If enacted, Arkansas would become the second state to adopt such a law change this year.

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Indiana has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations since Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar measure into law last week. Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week said he’d sign the measure into law, and his office said Monday his position hadn’t changed.

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