Arkansas Governor Asks Legislators To Revisit 'Religious Freedom' Bill Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told state lawmakers Wednesday they should either amend or recall a bill that's dubbed a "religious freedom" measure.
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Arkansas Governor Asks Legislators To Revisit 'Religious Freedom' Bill

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Arkansas Governor Asks Legislators To Revisit 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Arkansas Governor Asks Legislators To Revisit 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Arkansas Governor Asks Legislators To Revisit 'Religious Freedom' Bill

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told state lawmakers Wednesday they should either amend or recall a bill that's dubbed a "religious freedom" measure. The governor changed his stance after the business community and gay rights activists complained about the measure.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We begin this hour with the national attention on the religious freedom laws pending in Indiana and now Arkansas. Even after Indiana saw a huge backlash over its law, Arkansas went ahead and passed its own version. Civil rights groups say the legislation would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. Today, Arkansas' governor sent the bill back to lawmakers. Michael Hibblen of member station KUAR begins our coverage.

MICHAEL HIBBLEN, BYLINE: Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has said all along he would sign the bill that allows businesses to deny service to anyone if it conflicts with religious beliefs. Today he asked lawmakers to recall it.

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GOVERNOR ASA HUTCHINSON: The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law.

HIBBLEN: That law was passed by Congress in 1993 and has been vetted by the courts. He says he was concerned by the response from the business community including major Arkansas-based companies like Wal-mart.

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HUTCHINSON: My responsibility is to speak out on my own convictions and to do what I can as governor to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas, protects those of religious conscience, but also minimizes the chance of discrimination in the workplace and in the public environment.

HIBBLEN: Hundreds of demonstrators have been at the state capital calling on the governor to veto the legislation. Tippi McCullough with the Stonewall Democratic Caucus spoke to the crowd.

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TIPPI MCCULLOUGH: Remove the debt of discrimination. Remove the debt of economic uncertainty, and revive the spirit of Southern hospitality in Arkansas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yeah.

(CHEERING)

HIBBLEN: Republican legislative leaders say they're willing to work with the governor and consider changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA. Senate President Jonathan Dismang insists the bill doesn't target anyone.

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JONATHAN DISMANG: I've not spoken to a member that wants RFRA, even the state version, to be something that allows for discrimination. I think I would challenge anyone to find a member that would say that they're wanting to utilize this RFRA law to allow for further discrimination.

HIBBLEN: But Dismang said it would be premature to say whether there is support for the proposed changes. For NPR News, I'm Michael Hibblen in Little Rock.

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