Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed an important bill strengthening religious liberty in The Natural State.
The Conscience Protection Act (HB 1615) stipulates that the Arkansas government “shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization on the basis of the religious identity or status of the religious organization.”
The bill also states that religious organizations cannot be discriminated against for “maintaining policies and procedures in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief, or the religious organization engaging in religious conduct protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The Arkansas House overwhelmingly approved HB 1615 on April 3, 2023, in a 78-17 vote, while the Arkansas Senate subsequently passed the bill by another overwhelming margin: 28-4.
According to the Arkansas Family Council, a Focus on the Family-allied state family policy council, HB 1615 was necessary to strengthen religious freedom in the state.
“[The bill] makes important clarifications to the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act that helps safeguard the ability of religious people and religious organizations to operate according to their deeply held convictions,” said Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council.
Additionally, Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen issued a statement applauding the passage of the bill.
“Citizens should be able to stand up for their rights when the government stops them from living and worshiping according to their faith,” Chafuen said.
The Conscience Protection Act strengthens Arkansans’ religious freedom rights by bolstering existing protections in the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and ensuring the government will not discriminate against religious individuals and organizations.
The law doesn’t determine who will win every disagreement, but it does ensure that all Arkansans—regardless of their religious creed or political power—receive a fair hearing if government action forces them to violate their religious beliefs.
As Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman will tell you – laws protecting the freedom of conscience are growing increasingly important as state actors and individual citizens target people of faith for their Christian beliefs.
The passage and signing of HB 1615 comes after the state’s voters narrowly failed to approve stronger religious freedom protections in the state’s constitution in the 2022 midterm elections.
Nonetheless, social conservatives have been remarkably active in the Natural State over the past few years and have the results to prove it.
On April 6, 2021, the Arkansas Legislature became the first state in the nation to pass a bill protecting gender-confused minors from damaging puberty blockers, opposite-sex hormones and surgeries. The Legislature had to override then-Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the SAFE Act to enact the protections.
Earlier this year, Americans United for Life (AUL) named Arkansas the “most pro-life state in the nation” for the third year in a row.
And two months ago, Gov. Sanders signed the Arkansas Learns Act – a comprehensive education reform bill that promotes parental rights, school choice and homeschooling, in addition to prohibiting critical race theory and inappropriate sexual content from being taught in classes statewide.
Much of the success in Arkansas can be attributed to the fantastic work of the Arkansas Family Council. All of the state family policy councils do critical work to enact change on a state level, and pass laws to protect parental rights, preserve preborn life and protect gender-confused children, among many other issues.
In a statement to the Daily Citizen, President Jerry Cox said:
Arkansas Family Council and the lawmakers who passed so many great laws have received a good bit of credit for such a successful legislative session, but let me tell you who really won.
It’s the child that won’t be aborted because of funding for pregnancy centers where expectant mothers can get help. It is the kids that won’t be indoctrinated with lies about race and gender at their public schools because it’s now illegal.
The winners are the parents who will have funds to send their child to the school of their choice. The winner is the young woman who doesn’t end up in sex trafficking or those victims who can sue the daylights out of the traffickers. The winners are people of all faiths whose religious freedoms are protected so they can live life according to what they believe without the government telling them otherwise. The winner is the person dying in the hospital during a pandemic who can now have his or her pastor there to pray with them as they take their last breath.
Kudos to the Arkansas Family Council and every family policy council that are forces for good around the country.
Most states have family policy councils. To learn more about their work, or to get involved with your state’s pro-family organization, click here.
Photo from Shutterstock.