This November voters will decide whether or not to add The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment to the state’s constitution.
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment would:
- Guarantee that state and local laws will not infringe religious liberty.
- Enshrine protections for religious freedom into the Arkansas Constitution
- Provide people with legal recourse if the government infringes their religious freedoms.
- Maintain balance in situations in which religious liberty conflicts with a compelling governmental interest.
Below are additional points to consider.
Current Law: Act 975 of 2015
In 2015 the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 975, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Act 975 protects religious liberty without hampering the government’s ability to maintain law and order.
Act 975 is nearly identical to religious freedom laws passed at the federal level and in most states.
Act 975 says the government cannot substantially burden a person’s religious liberty unless it is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest and the government uses the least restrictive means possible to further its compelling interest.
Act 975 is a state law. It is not part of the Arkansas Constitution.
The Arkansas Legislature could amend Act 975 any time, and a court could strike it down, if challenged.
What The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment Would Do
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment amends the Arkansas Constitution.
The amendment is very similar to Act 975 of 2015, but it writes religious freedom into the Arkansas Constitution.
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment affirms and protects the religious liberties identified in our state and federal constitutions.
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment guarantees that state and local law will not burden the free exercise of religion.
The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment says that the government cannot burden a person’s religious liberty unless it is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest and it is done in the least restrictive manner possible.
If the government burdens a person’s religious freedom, the person may take legal action to protect their liberty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where Can I Find a Copy of The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment?
Answer: You can download a copy of it here.
Why is The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment necessary?
Answer: The free exercise of religion has been under attack for decades. State and federal courts have eroded protections for religious liberty. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment helps uphold religious liberty by enshrining protections for it in the Arkansas Constitution.
Religious liberties are guaranteed by the First Amendment. Why do we need another amendment giving us what we already have?
Answer: The First Amendment has not changed, but the way courts interpret it has over the years. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment helps stop courts from reinterpreting and undermining the free exercise of religion in Arkansas.
Why does the amendment say the government can burden the free exercise of religion if it has a compelling interest at stake?
Answer: This language is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other state and federal laws protecting religious freedom. It helps ensure that the government can do things like investigate terrorists or prosecute abusive cult leaders without someone arguing that religious freedom is being violated. Enforcing criminal laws and protecting public safety is an example of a compelling government interest.
Will this give religious extremists a license to disrupt our public schools, gatherings, or safety?
Answer: No. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment lets the government infringe a person’s religious liberty when it’s necessary to further a compelling governmental interest and it is done in the least restrictive manner possible. Public education, public gatherings, and public safety are all well-documented governmental interests. Courts have ruled repeatedly the government has legitimate jurisdiction in these areas.
Will this amendment protect parents who deliberately withhold medical treatment of their children based on their religious beliefs?
Answer: No. Child welfare is a documented governmental interest, and all existing child abuse, neglect, or maltreatment laws would still apply under The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.
Will this amendment allow anybody to abuse children?
Answer: Absolutely not. The protection of children is a well-documented governmental interest. Alabama’s religious freedom amendment hasn’t permitted child abuse. Neither would The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.
Will this amendment protect religious cults that practice polygamy or abuse their members?
Answer: No. Governments have the right to outlaw criminal behavior, and religious freedoms do not exempt a person from abiding by the law (see Reynolds v U.S. 1878). If the government did not have the right to prohibit theft, abuse, fraud, and other crimes, the courts would have proven it long ago. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment does not change this.
Will this amendment protect a Catholic Priest or other clergyman who abuses a child?
Answer: No. Child welfare is a well-documented governmental interest. This law could not justify child abuse.
Will this amendment let Muslim extremists stone or dismember people who violate religious laws?
Answer: No. Killing or hurting another person has never been accepted as a legal religious practice in America. That would not change under this amendment.
Could this amendment complicate matters in public schools where Muslim students might want to wear traditional Muslim attire in violation of the school’s dress code?
Answer: It’s already questionable whether a school can stop students from wearing religious attire. However, The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment would let a public school stop a student from wearing religious attire at school if the school could demonstrate that there is a compelling governmental interest at stake.
Will this amendment put Arkansas law in conflict with federal court rulings against prayer in public school?
Answer: No. Schools will still have to abide by federal laws and court rulings governing prayer in school. No part of The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment requires government institutions to engage in religious activity.
Will this amendment lead to frivolous lawsuits against public school teachers or other school officials?
Answer: No. Any lawsuit that lacks merit likely would be dismissed by the court.
What if a public school student’s practice of his or her religion is disruptive to the school environment?
Answer: Conducting public education in a peaceful and orderly manner is a compelling governmental interest. The school would be entirely within its legal right to stop any disruptive behavior.
Do Any Organizations Support Issue 3?
The following are some of the state and national organizations that have publicly expressed support for the amendment:
- The Arkansas Baptist State Convention
- Liberty Counsel
- FRC Action
- Focus on the Family
- Alliance Defending Freedom
- Family Council Action Committee
Do Any Organizations Oppose Issue 3?
The following are some of the groups that have publicly expressed opposition to the amendment:
- The ACLU of Arkansas [https://www.acluarkansas.org/en/press-releases/aclu-arkansas-statement-arkansas-religious-freedom-amendment-sjr14]
- The Arkansas Public Policy Panel [https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5492f99ce4b0a0509513144d/t/60620896230bef7faa9b5bd7/1617037468304/2021+Constitutional+Amendment+Report+%28FINAL%29.pdf]
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation [https://ffrf.org/news/action/item/38650-oppose-two-religiously-motivated-state-constitutional-amendments]