The Arkansas legislature has approved a new state constitutional amendment regarding religious freedom that it will send to the voters for approval in 2022. Senate Joint Resolution 14 (SJR 14), also known as the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment, declares that government may not burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.
Even if the government has such a compelling interest, the amendment requires that the government achieve its purpose by the “least restrictive means.” Any person whose religious freedom has been burdened in violation of the amendment may assert it as a claim or defense in a lawsuit and obtain whatever relief is appropriate from the government.
The language of the amendment is patterned after the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is a state statute, not a constitutional amendment. Twenty-two states have passed such laws, known as RFRAs, the latest being Montana. The laws are patterned after a similar federal law passed in 1993.
The Family Council, a Focus on the Family ally based in Little Rock, applauded the news of the legislature’s passage of the proposed constitutional language.
“State and federal measures restoring religious freedom in America came about because courts had so badly eroded religious liberty in America,” wrote Jerry Cox, the president of Family Council, in a blog post. “The laws simply help restore protections for the free exercise of religion.
“S.J.R. 14 is no different in that regard. It’s just a good measure that will help ensure that our state constitution protects religious liberty in Arkansas. That’s something that all of us ought to be able to support.”
By adding RFRA language to its state constitution, Arkansas will be ensuring the permanency of its guarantees of religious freedom. Although state RFRAs can be subject to the whim of future legislatures that might decide to reduce or eliminate such protections, constitutional amendments can only be changed by the state’s voters.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which used to support religious freedom, came out against the amendment.
“This amendment would be among the most extreme in the country and would put Arkansas out of step with nearly all other states,” the ACLU of Arkansas tweeted recently.
That’s an odd statement considering almost half the states, plus the federal government, use similar language.
The ACLU’s priorities have changed over the years, and these days the organization is more apt to sue religious hospitals that assert a faith-based objection to performing transgender surgeries. Or sue a grandmother who operates a florist shop and refuses to use her creative talents to celebrate a same-sex marriage. Or sue a Christian funeral home owner who refuses to let a male funeral director dress as a female to work with grieving clients.
We’ll have to wait until November 2022 to see whether Arkansas voters adopt the constitutional amendment. In the interim, the state will undoubtedly feel the full force of woke corporations that recently have been throwing their collective weight around on behalf of LGBT issues at the expense of religious freedom. Please lift up the people and the legislature of Arkansas in prayer during the months ahead.
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