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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MELISSA SUE GERRITS - 03/29/15 - Crowd members listen to Barb Mariani speak on a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a gathering at South On Main restaurant in Little Rock March 29, 2015.

About 700 people gathered in Little Rock on Sunday opposing an Arkansas bill they say would allow businesses to refuse service to gays and transgender people.

They want lawmakers to stop moving forward with Arkansas House Bill 1228, dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which passed through the Arkansas Senate on Friday. The amended version will now go to the House. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a written statement Friday that he "will sign this bill as amended."

The legislation, by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, would not allow the state to "substantially burden" a person's right to follow his religious beliefs unless the government possesses a "compelling" interest in the regulation and if the regulation is the least restrictive option. In the legislation, the definition of "person" includes associations, partnerships, corporations, religious institutions or other legal entities.

Members of the state's Human Rights Campaign held an emergency meeting Sunday night, drawing former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, among others.

"It's not over yet. There are still actions left to be taken," McDaniel told a crowd that overflowed from South on Main restaurant. "I respect our governor and I believe he will listen to good people with good counsel. If you want to be heard, use a respectful voice, come together intelligently and let our governor and legislators know why this is so wrong and so bad and that this is not who we are."

Hutchinson could not be reached Sunday through his spokesman.

But his office Sunday night re-issued his Friday statement in which the governor said, in part, "This bill is designed to protect the religious freedoms of all Arkansans ... Arkansas is open for business, and we recognize and respect the diversity of our culture and economy."

Ballinger said Sunday night that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1997 "made it easier for states to burden religion" and that the bill's purpose was to restore protection.

"What happened is that there's a group that's assembled to attack. They're not against what the bill does but what they say the bill does," Ballinger said. "It's not as radical as people think it is. They're protesting and angry about something and they've placed this law as the symbol, and it's become the symbol for what it's really not."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1997 that a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply to the states, 20 states have enacted their own version of the law.

This year, 13 states have either adopted or are trying to pass such a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed that state's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

Hundreds of people protested the action during a rally Saturday outside the Indiana Statehouse, and large corporations -- including Angie's List, Wal-Mart and Apple -- have spoken out against the law.

Pence said Sunday on ABC's This Week that enacting the law was not a mistake.

The Indiana governor did not answer directly when asked multiple times whether the law would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay customers, The Associated Press reported.

McDaniel, speaking to the crowd at South on Main, noted Pence's refusal to answer that question directly.

"That tells you all you need to know about what this bill does," McDaniel said.

McDaniel wrote a guest column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this month that stated the legislation "would allow individuals and businesses across this state to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans, to women, to religious minorities -- and to any other Arkansan who may face regular discrimination."

The crowd inside South on Main -- and the hundreds more listening from two overflow rooms -- jeered Sunday when Barbara Mariani, a Pulaski County deputy prosecuting attorney, gave examples of how she said the law could be put into effect.

She said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community could be refused driver's licenses, affordable housing, employment, financial aid and admission to state colleges.

"A UAMS doctor can refuse life-saving care and have a defense under HB1228," Mariani said. "It can go on and on. Basically, there's no limitations."

At the end of the meeting, Human Rights Campaign member James Rector asked attendees to gather at the Capitol today and to join in later in the day for an "equality prayer" at the governor's mansion.

Holly Dixon, legal director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she thought Arkansas' legislation was intended to act as a "safety net" in case Senate Bill 202, which became Act 137 last month, was declared unconstitutional.

Act 137 bans local anti-discrimination ordinances that differ from state law.

"They're running scared because they see equality coming, and that's what this is all about," Dixon said.

Metro on 03/30/2015

Print Headline: Foes of HB1228 gather in LR


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Archived Comments

  • WGT
    March 30, 2015 at 6:33 a.m.

    There must be 100% separation of church and state. This bill is a Waring blender mix of the two ideologies. The discriminations possibilities are limitless. This is not good for Arkansas. Think.

  • 23cal
    March 30, 2015 at 7:10 a.m.

    I think I will believe the analysis of the Pulaski Deputy Prosecuting attorney over the groundless claims of people demanding legal cover to persecute the already traditionally persecuted gay minority.
    Check out what Punditfact has to say about Indiana's new controversial and similar law: htt p://w m/truth-o-meter/article/2015/mar/29/punditfact-fact-checks-march-29-sunday-shows/

  • TheAntiBrummett
    March 30, 2015 at 9:01 a.m.

    The LGBT community brought it on themselves when they demanded that Christian bakery owners make them cakes with two men or two women on top. Should've just gone somewhere else. Ironic that Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen supported Slick Willie, who signed the first religious freedom law into effect at the federal level. Now the owner of South on Main is up in arms trying to keep the governor from signing legislation that will protect the same religious freedoms at the state level. Looks like the lobbyists will no longer be using South on Main for catering and events, BTW.

  • TheAntiBrummett
    March 30, 2015 at 9:02 a.m.

    (The owner of South on Main is, I believe, the nephew of Mary Steenburgen).

  • JakeTidmore
    March 30, 2015 at 9:35 a.m.

    Love cooter's illogical response: it's all your fault for asking for your rights. It's the blacks' fault for wanting their rights; it's the women's fault for asking for their rights. If you ask for your rights, plain and simple, it's your fault.
    Someone needs to get his head out of his a$$ because people are gonna get tired of this nonsensical reasoning and oppression. And when they do, the sphincter of this idgit galoot is gonna tighten and cut off the oxygen to his befuddled brain.

  • FreeSpiritMan
    March 30, 2015 at 9:37 a.m.

    boycottArkansas hashtag coming to Arkansas

  • 23cal
    March 30, 2015 at 9:52 a.m.

    About "Now the owner of South on Main is up in arms trying to keep the governor from signing legislation that will protect the same religious freedoms at the state level." This is the misinformation that is being shoveled to the gullible by Fox News and other right wing outlets.
    The truth is that There are several important differences in the Indiana bill (which is essentially the Arkansas bill) but the most striking is Section 9. Under that section, a “person” (which under the law includes not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity) whose “exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened” can use the law as “a claim or defense… regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.”
    Every other Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to disputes between a person or entity and a government. Arkansas' and Indiana’s are the only law that explicitly applies to disputes between private citizens.
    Thirty law professors who are experts in religious freedom wrote in February that the Indiana law (like Arkansas) does not “mirror the language of the federal RFRA” and “will… create confusion, conflict, and a wave of litigation that will threaten the clarity of religious liberty rights in Indiana while undermining the state’s ability to enforce other compelling interests.
    You might also not the RFRA Clinton signed was designed and in response to Native Americans being fired for having mescaline in their bloodstream. The intent of the bill was to protect religious practices from GOVERNMENT interference, such as whether a Muslim prison guard could wear a beard, or if a Jehovah’s Witness needed special coverage for medical procedures because he or she is against blood transfusions, or Native American religious practices.

  • BirdDogsRock
    March 30, 2015 at 10:01 a.m.

    Nothing in this world spawns or justifies as much cruelty and hatred and ill will against one's fellow humans as religion. Look around: religion is poisoning everything, and not just in the Middle East; christians in the US are as adept at mistreatment, cruelty and hatred as anyone, anywhere. All in the name of jesus and god... nice job, christians, you are fully illuminating the dark, ugly truths of your religion, for all to see.

  • Whippersnapper
    March 30, 2015 at 10:02 a.m.

    So, libs hate the fact that state law will explicitly allow people to exercise their religion. Law will pass anyway, and folks will be able to practice their religion as a citizen or as part of a business they own. This really galls libs because it is pro-liberty and pro-capitalism and not anti-religion all wrapped up in one.

  • TheAntiBrummett
    March 30, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.

    Hey ya Jake, no one has a "right" to demand anyone perform any service for them at any price. That is a form of slavery. Our government has burdened us all with an obligation to serve others regardless of our desire to do so. Now for being black or female versus being homosexual . . . one is a state of being that cannot (and does not need to) be changed, the second is a chosen pattern of behavior. I have never discriminated against anyone because of the way they are oriented sexually, but I do understand that some people want to be left alone and associate freely with persons only of their own choosing. Sounds like Jake is the one that is intolerant here based on his statements. Personal beliefs are not an indicator of intelligence, but IQ is. Statistically speaking there is a 99.99% likelihood mine is higher than yours without even knowing yours.