Arkansas had an interesting item pop up for a vote – Amendment 3. The results are in and so those that live there can breath a big sigh of relief because common sense has prevailed.
What exactly was this amendment?
The voters were asked to support of oppose a Government Burden of Free Exercise of Religion Amendment.
A “yes” vote supported amending the state constitution to provide that “government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.“
A “no” vote opposed amending the state constitution to provide that “government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.“
Good luck finding an average voter in Arkansas, or anywhere else, that actually understands this without digging into it.
If this had actually passed, and remember it almost did, then it would have been an open license for the deeply religious in Arkansas to launch many wild and utterly whacky lawsuits … and quite possibly win.
OK, let’s briefly get into this latest bit of Christian fascism.
What exactly would this proposed new Law have enabled?
It was to have been a guarantee that freedom of religion trumps everything and is not burdened by any state and local law.
The obvious example that perhaps motivated this would be mask mandates, vaccine mandates, or a restriction on large groups of people going to a church in the middle of a global pandemic and spreading COVID to many others.
It might of course be tempting to think, “let them go and infect each other” but it never was just about them. Instead, it was about all of us.
If the US had not botched the handling of the pandemic and the anti-mask/anti-vaccine lunacy had not gained traction, then it is highly probable that many of the over one million who died would still be alive.
Just to make this proposed amendment “interesting”, there were things that were not defined.
Without defining it, it will apply to any religion, for example Islam, Wicca, Satanism, or even Scientology.
What exactly does “burden” mean?
If for example some local ordnance simply offends somebody then that would potentially be a “burden”.
The crazy thing about this is that Arkansas already has a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). That law mandated that the government could not “substantially” burden someone’s exercise of religion. The proposed Amendment 3 simply removed the word “substantially” along with other constraints and restrictions that were part of the RFRA act.
Net effect … anything, and I mean literally any crazy thing, that supposedly “burdens” a deeply religious person would have been in scope.
Formal Arguments Against this
- Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC): “The proposed amendment that advanced in Arkansas strays from the federal version of RFRA in a potentially significant way: by leaving out the word “substantial.” Instead, the law is triggered by *any* burden on religious exercise. … The precise meaning and legal significance of the “substantial” requirement is still somewhat unsettled. But, it does ensure that not every incidental impact on a person’s religion requires the state to meet the high compelling interest test. Currently, the Arkansas state RFRA provides robust protection for religious freedom while also being mindful of other important state interests, which makes this amendment unnecessary.”
- ACLU of Arkansas: “The unintended consequences of this measure would be severe and far-reaching, giving people a basis to challenge and exempt themselves from virtually any state law. If enacted, SJR14 would be among the most extreme of its kind in the country, putting Arkansas out of step with nearly all other states and jeopardizing our economy. Similar laws in Indiana and Arizona led to widespread boycotts, costing states millions in revenue. Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it’s not an excuse to target, harm, or discriminate against people. We urge members of the House to oppose this dangerous and discriminatory amendment.”
- Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas: “The unintended consequences of this measure would be severe and far-reaching, giving people a basis to challenge and exempt themselves from virtually any state law.”
- State Rep. Josh Miller (R): “There are folks who would say that if it passes, it could open the door for situations like for a mosque to go buy some property next to a Baptist day care and blare their sirens and their Muslim sayings all day long.”
As has also been pointed out by some, it would have opened the door to things such as these …
- Think how vigorously homophobic the deeply religious are and consider how this would have become a legal weapon to discriminate against that community in so many different ways.
- How about abusing your wife or beating your kids and then citing the bible as justification if anybody dared to suggest the law should step it and get involved.
Consider all the sensible legislation out there that is designed to protect consumers, ensure safety, and prevent discrimination This would have enabled a religious exception for all of that.
Electing law makers who promote legislation that has not been well thought out or considered, but instead simply pushes hot emotional buttons, is a recipe for chaos and a great deal of social strife.
It was an attempt to pervert the Freedom of Religion shield into a sword. That would have enabled the deeply religious to strike against anybody and anything that they did not like.
Arkansas had a very close call and ducked this by only a handful of votes. As one commenter observed, they made a ton a bad choices last week, but as for this one, well, they got it right.
Do yourself a favour, just don’t look to see who got elected as Gov of Arkansas, because trust me on this, you really really do not want to know.