LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A ballot measure looking to codify religious freedom into the Arkansas constitution saw support at the state capitol Tuesday, even as opponents say the bill is unnecessary.
The stated intent of Issue 3 is to create an amendment to the state constitution barring the government from burdening a person’s freedom of religion without demonstrating a compelling interest.
The issue was placed on the ballot by the 93rd General Assembly’s passage of Senate Joint Resolution 14, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert of Perryville.
The long-time politically active Arkansas Family Council is pushing to see the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment” passed in this election. Executive director Jerry Cox said the proposed bill would prevent “the future erosion of religious freedom” in Arkansas.
Cox added that the group’s action committee will be working with faith leaders and churches across Arkansas to educate about the ballot issue and encourage voting in favor of it.
“What we want to do is be sure that that freedom that we enjoy right now is preserved for generations to come,” he said.
The bill does have opposition. Grant Tennille, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said the party was working to defeat the amendment and called it an attempt to “power grab” by the state legislature.
“[The] bottom line is that the First Amendment to the Constitution is pretty plain spoken and doesn’t need much help,” he said. “Religious freedom has served for a few hundred years for Americans as a shield, and there are some people who are trying to turn it into a sword.”
The Democratic chair added that he was also concerned about how this ballot issue could be used if passed.
“Well, I think that if you go back to what the Supreme Court itself said about 150 years ago, ‘If you weaponize religious freedom in this country, then no one is subject to the law,’” Tennille said.
In addition to pushing for support of Issue 3 on the November ballot, the Family Council has also been encouraging Arkansans to vote against Issue 4, the adult-use marijuana amendment.