Indiana and Arkansas passed modified “religious freedom” laws on April 2 after facing controversy.
According to the Indianapolis Star, the amended Indiana bill does not authorize the refusal of service, goods, or employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion.
The Indiana bill specifically says that providers, meaning businesses and employers, cannot refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The term “provider” does not include churches or any other non-profit religious organization, including schools. The language of the bill leaves most religious organizations exempt from the bill. The Arkansas bill was changed to more closely resemble federal laws.
According to ABC News, Governor Pence of Indiana released a statement saying that “resolving this controversy, making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.”
The religious freedom bills in both states were originally more conservative, but amendments were made after the states faced pressure from leading businesses. Businesses threatened to pull out from Indiana, and Arkansas faced pressure from Walmart. Indiana and Arkansas both faced tremendous controversy in the weeks leading up to passing the bills, but 19 other states including Tennessee already have similar bills, and another ten states are considering similar bills.
Critics claimed that the original bills gave businesses legal defense to discriminate against the LGBT community. Proponents of the bills, however, say that the original bills protected religious rights in relation to refusing service related to gay weddings, which directly oppose some religious beliefs.
According to USA Today, the head of the Arkansas Family Council, Jerry Cox, referred to the original Arkansas bill as the “Rolls Royce of religious freedom bills.” “The current bill that just passed,” he said, “is a Cadillac.” The Arkansas bill in its current form only mentions government action, not businesses. Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas said he does not want the bill to be license to discriminate.