Despite the backlash aimed at both Arkansas and Indiana over the Religious Freedom bill, a great number of other similar bills are popping up across the U.S. to considerably less media coverage, experts warn.
The original federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was introduced in 1993 and worded to “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected”. It was designed to protect religious minorities, particularly those associated with Native American people, or for another example, to ensure prisoners were given food appropriate to their religion.
But the new Religious Freedom laws (similar to those which sprang up in Indiana) vary greatly from their old predecessors, and critics accuse them of being usable to discriminate against a person based on their sexuality alone.
The bills in both Indiana and Arkansas were met with overwhelming backlash and hostility – from celebrities, business leaders and naturally, LGBT protest groups.
The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, had refused to sign the first draft of the bill into law, wanting to have clarification added, that it could not be used to discriminate against anyone in the LGBT community.
He had insisted that the bill never had the intent to be used from discrimination, but he and the state had faced a lot of pressure from businesses (including the American supermarket Wal-Mart, whose headquarters were located in Arkansas) and even from his own son, Seth.
At the bill signing Asa Hutchinson said that the new bill reflects the “diversity of our culture and our workforce. This mirrors the federal law, that was the objective”.
In Indiana, the RFRA was amended to clarify the language and tat it does not “authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.”
Indiana was perhaps the most covered in the news, with many companies (particularly those in the tech sector) threatened to boycott the state unless the laws were changed to protect the gay community.
Despite this good news, twelve other states have proposed religious freedom laws over the past 12 months, and while the bills have not passed in five states, there are still seven remaining where the decision is pending.
“It’s all about marriage.” Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of congress insisted, speaking to the Guardian. “There were a number of states where they never had to worry about same-sex marriage, because they knew they were never going to pass it. And then the appeals court and Supreme Court ruled and now they have to confront the reality of same-sex marriage in their states.”