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Protests show no signs of slowing down Arkansas’ anti-LGBT religious freedom bill

Protestors display signs after a meeting of the House Committee on Judiciary at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Monday, March 30, 2015. The committee advanced an amended version of a bill that critics say would sanction discrimination against LGBT individuals. Danny Johnston, AP

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Opponents of an Arkansas “religious freedom” measure that critics say will allow widespread anti-LGBT discrimination similar to the new Indiana law filled the state Capitol in Little Rock on Monday to protest the bill as it neared a final vote.

The protests, however, showed no signs of slowing the momentum of the bill, endorsed by a House committee Monday, that prevents state and local governments from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” interest.

Despite efforts to clarify a similar measure enacted in Indiana, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the lawmaker behind the proposal said they’re not seeking any more changes to Arkansas’ bill.

The House, which had supported an initial version of the bill, could take up the proposal as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Protesters held an early-morning rally outside the governor’s mansion, but the main event drew more than 500 people outside the entrance to the state House chamber Monday. Outside the committee room, protesters held signs that read “Discrimination is not a Christian Value” and “Discrimination is a Disease”, and chanted “Shame on You” at the sponsor of the measure.

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“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 House Judiciary Committee 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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