Many Arkansas voters who strongly support religious freedom are opposing Ballot Issue 3, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment, for an invalid reason. Social media frenzy and distrust of government is causing a paranoia among some Christian voters that could stop a state constitutional amendment benefiting religious freedom. Let’s look at this issue more closely.
In 2015, the Arkansas legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Act 975. This Act mirrors federal law and the laws of many other states protecting religious freedoms. It simply endorsed religious freedom specifically for Arkansas. It states that 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. That is on the books now, but the legislature and courts can always remove it rather easily in the future. That is why it needs to be ensconced in the Arkansas Constitution.
Issue 3 in this election, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment, is virtually the same wording as the existing Arkansas statute. It was drafted by two of the most conservative Christian members of the Arkansas legislature and passed as a recommended amendment by a large majority of the House and Senate. The objective was to strengthen and protect religious freedom as well as make it very difficult and unlikely for the government to intervene in religious matters.
The hang-up for some voters is the exception for government to intervene. This exception is absolutely necessary. Something like it is included in every religious liberty act and amendment in the country, and rightly so. Otherwise, the government would not be allowed to act against cults, fanatics, and even terrorists who claim to be acting according to their religion. What if someone proclaimed spouse beating was a religious right. What if a group decided it was against their religion to pay any taxes? What if an entire religious sect said their beliefs do not allow pictures of themselves under any circumstances? Wouldn’t we want the government to take these “religious freedom” claimants to court or deny them other freedoms as a result of their claims? That is why the exception clause is necessary but extremely restricted by the phrases “compelling interest” and “least restrictive means possible.”
Organizations that are supportive (or FOR) Issue 3 include Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and Alliance Defending Freedom. Organizations that are opposed (or AGAINST) Issue 3 include ACLU of Arkansas, The Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and The Freedom From Religion Foundation.
My concern is that we could lose a highly advantageous opportunity to advance religious liberty in Arkansas over the misinterpretation of a sentence that will always, by necessity, be a part of any religious freedom statute or amendment. Even if one remains convinced the exception clause in this proposed amendment is a red herring that negates its intent, the amendment’s defeat would just take us back to the existing statute that says the same thing but is more vulnerable to government interference.
Let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face. Vote “FOR” Issue 3.
Known as the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment”
It says it would prohibit Arkansas and local governments from burdening the practice of religion in Arkansas “unless the government shows there’s a compelling reason to do so and acts in the least restrictive way..”
I VOTE NO
While the intent behind this is good, the way it’s written, it actually WEAKENS Religious Liberty by giving GOVERNMENT more power than our state constitution.
Why did those religious liberty experts add the language “unless the government shows there’s a compelling reason to do so and acts in the least restrictive way.”??
That gives the government the leeway to say this covid pandemic is a compelling reason to overpower individual religious beliefs and everyone should be required to take an experimental vaccine.”
Who gets to define “compelling reason”
and who gets to define what is and is not “least restrictive”
According to Issue 3, The GOVERNMENT.
Issue 3 says the government gets to decide when and if the government will recognize your religious liberty.
That kind of vague and arbitrary language is not something I could ever support in an amendment to our Constitution .
Religious Liberty is a RIGHT that our government trampled during covid .
That trampling is not because our state constitution was not strongly worded enough to stop it.
Government succeeded because we the people allowed it and did not challenge it as boldly as we should have legally.
The Arkansas Constitution already has a religious freedom provision and it is a STRONGER statement than the one in this proposal.
The Arkansas Constitution proclaims the people have “a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences ” and declares “No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience.”
Those are stronger MORE BOLD and CONCISE statements than the proposed change to the Arkansas Constitution, which would say it is okay for government to burden your practice of religion if it has a compelling reason and did it in the least restrictive way to accomplish its purposes.
INSTEAD of protecting our religious freedoms from the courts, the wording gives government absolute power to determine what is “COMPELLING and LEAST RESTRICTIVE “ regarding our religious freedom.
Thank you for your comment, Tim. The reference you cite is from the 1874 final Arkansas Constitution. Yes, our state Constitution Article 2, Section 24 states exactly what you highlighted. However, over the century-and-a-half since, the courts of the land including the Supreme Court have sided in numerous cases with the federal and state government when it was absolutely necessary for them to deny the claim of religious freedom for the good and safety of almost everyone. They were cases similar to the examples I presented in my post. As a result, the U.S. legislature in 1993 passed a bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which recognized the essential government intervention for egregious acts in the name of religion. This RFRA passed unanimously in the House and 97-3 in the Senate preventing the government from substantially burdening religious freedom unless it is absolutely necessary to further a compelling government interest and then using the least restrictive means possible to further its compelling interest. This was necessary to prevent chaos from, again, examples in my post. The Issue 3 amendment is language by Christian conservatives in the state legislature to complement the federal law and in accordance with the supreme court by using the same strong language that upholds our religious liberty. The language of the 1874 Constitution did not take into consideration the myriad of ways people have abused their religious freedom with criminal acts. The Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment is a good amendment supported by numerous credible Christian organizations after thorough research.