State RFRA Updates: Good News and Bad News

The recent flood of state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills continues. We oppose these bills because they could allow not just individuals, but also private corporations, to violate important laws—like non-discrimination, public safety, and public health protections—in the name of religion. This week there was both good news and bad news in the world of state RFRAs.

The good news

The South Dakota RFRA bill died. On Tuesday morning, the South Dakota House State Affairs Committee voted to kill House Bill 1220, after social activists worked hard to point out the bill’s potential harmful consequences.

Walmart came out against the Arkansas RFRA bill. In more good news this week,Walmart came out against House Bill 1228, the Conscience Protection Act. Although a Walmart spokesman said the bill would not specifically change the way they run their business (their non-discrimination policy already protects LGBT employees), the bill is “counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state.” As we saw in Arizona, when big businesses in the state oppose these religious freedom bills they are not likely to last. Shortly after Walmart came out against the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected it.

The Arkansas Governor also expressed concerns about HB 1228. On Tuesday,Governor Asa Hutchison expressed concerns about the bill that are similar to those voiced by Walmart, albeit with guarded language that did not openly oppose the bill. He said he has reservations about the possible unintended consequences of the bill and is unsure how it would be applied.

(Unfortunately, Governor Hutchison made this statement right after refusing to veto a harmful bill that would prevent local anti-discrimination ordinances from protecting the LGBT community.)

Former Republican Attorney General came out against Georgia RFRA. Georgia’s former Attorney General Mike Bowers (of the Bowers v. Hardwick U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld a Georgia sodomy law), released a memo passionately opposing the Georgia RFRA bill. He noted the obvious link between marriage equality legislation and RFRA, and that the bill’s “unstated purpose… is to authorize discrimination against disfavored groups.”

The bad news

Despite being tabled last week, the Georgia RFRA is not dead. Last week, the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee members tabled Senate Bill 129 because they did not feel they had enough time to consider amendments. Unfortunately, the committee is likely to continue discussion of the RFRA bill at a committee hearing as early as Thursday. If you live in Georgia, let the members of the committee know you do not support the bill.

The Indiana Senate passed the RFRA bill. Senate Bill 101 passed through the Senate chamber on Tuesday and will now be sent to the House. If you live in Indiana, contact your Representative and tell him or her to oppose this harmful bill.