Broad Arkansas FADA Could Have Devastating Effect On Arkansans

Image by DustyPixel/Getty Images

Image by DustyPixel/Getty Images

The committee deferred this bill during its March 16 meeting. Follow HB 2232 on our State Legislation Tracker for updates on the bill's status.

Today, the Arkansas House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear HB 2232. Although the bill’s title claims it would it promotes “nondiscrimination” and protects “religious liberty,” it would do the exact opposite. It is essentially a Mississippi-style First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)—a bill that permitted discrimination against LGBTQ people and was struck down last year as unconstitutional by a federal court—with a few interesting tweaks. The name of the bill can’t hide that this bill uses religious freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

HB 2232 would privilege two specific religious beliefs: “that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one (1) man and one (1) woman” and that “the terms "male" and "female", or "man" and "woman", refer to a person's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics by time of birth.” That it specifically targets both same-sex couples and transgender individuals makes the bill even broader than many FADA bills.

The bill would prohibit the state from taking any “discriminatory action” against individuals, for-profit corporations, and organizations that believe, speak, or act in accordance with these two religious beliefs. “Discriminatory action,” as you might have guessed, really means that the government would have to allow these individuals or entities to discriminate against LGBTQ Arkansans. The state would have to provide taxpayer-funded grants and contracts to entities, approve licenses for counselors and health care workers, and give academic credit to students even though those people and entities refuse to serve LGBT people.

In particular, this bill would prohibit the state government and any Arkansas boards, commissions, or municipalities from requiring the social service providers it funds to serve all Arkansas residents. For example, if a married woman tried to seek help at a government domestic violence shelter, the organization—acting on its religious belief—could turn her away because her spouse is the same sex. Another example: A for-profit state-funded afterschool program could turn away a transgender fourth grader from an afterschool program that all of her other classmates regularly attend by citing a religious belief.

Even if the government generally prohibits these organizations from discriminating, it wouldn’t matter. HB 2232 would require the state to contract with this service provider no matter how many people it turned away.

The bill also applies to the licensing of counselors, tax treatment, among other things. If passed, the state would not be allowed to revoke the license of a counselor who refused to speak to a gay teenager because he is gay—even a teen who had called a suicide hotline.

This legislation would have devastating effects on real people.  Stay tuned to PTN on this blog and on Facebook and Twitter for updates.