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State Lawmaker Considering Changes To Religious Freedom Law

political animals clarke Tucker bob ballinger rex nelson
Sarah Whites-Koditschek

A state representative who opposed a religious conscience bill says increased preferences for LGBT people may be added in the next legislative session if religious rights for clergy are clarified. 

Democratic Representative Clarke Tucker of Little Rock said religious ceremonies are already protected but perhaps that should be reiterated in state law. 

“Maybe if we could put it in the statute to make it absolutely explicit that if you are engaged in a religious ceremony then you have that protection,” said Tucker.

“But at the same time if you are engaged in some civil practice, like renting an apartment, or selling a sandwich, then you can’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity, maybe that would have a better shot of getting through.”

Republican Representative Bob Ballinger spoke with Tucker about religious and LGBT rights at a Political Animals Club meeting Friday.  A key architect of Arkansas’s new religious freedom law, Ballinger said in retrospect, he believes a last-minute compromise brokered by the governor was thoughtful and effective.

He said changes to the bill, which Wal-Mart and Apple criticized as hostile to LGBT rights, brought opponents back into the fold.

“I wasn’t overjoyed that he wasn’t just going to sign the bill. However, in hindsight, I think he showed real wisdom in how he did it. And instead we got a bill that was bipartisan, we got a bill everybody agreed with,” said Ballinger.   

Representative Tucker didn’t vote for either version, amended or not. In particular though, Tucker said the first incarnation went too far by giving the strictest judicial scrutiny to religious beliefs. He added it may have allowed individuals without actual standing to bring lawsuits on the basis of hypothetical concerns.

“It more broadly defined what exercise of religion is and it wasn’t just whether the action was motivated by religious belief. It also said religious belief does not have to be a central part of that person’s religious faith,” he said.       

Ballinger said he would not support adding a non-discrimination clause to state protections for LGBT people. 

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