Little Rock mayor asks Arkansas governor to stop ‘divisive’ religious freedom bill
The mayor of Little Rock has asked the Arkansas governor to halt a religious freedom bill similar to one recently passed in Indiana, saying in a letter on Tuesday the legislation is unnecessary, divisive and could hurt the state’s economy.
The Republican-dominated Arkansas House could vote as early as Tuesday on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, just as human rights groups, business leaders and others across the country protest the new Indiana law, which has the same name.
Both laws aim to keep the state government from forcing business owners to act against their religious beliefs, but critics say they could be used to justify refusing service to gay and lesbian people.
“Any piece of legislation that is so divisive cannot possibly be good for the state of Arkansas and its people. With these kind of ‘wedge issues,’ no one is a winner on either side,” Mark Stodola, the Democratic mayor of the state’s biggest city, wrote to Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.
The measure, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Republican-controlled Arkansas Senate last week, is expected to be approved by the Republican-dominated House. Hutchinson has said he would sign it.
The outcry over the Indiana law was so fierce that state’s governor, Republican Mike Pence, on Tuesday said he would “correct” the legislation to make it clear businesses cannot use it to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Supporters have said the Arkansas bill would not allow for discrimination. Critics, including the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart, which is based in Arkansas, said it sends the wrong message about the state.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Lambert)