Unpleasant surprise

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Last fall's midterm elections resulted in a Republican majority. As a fairly liberal person, I was not incredibly pleased with this but tried to keep an open mind about it. "Nothing's happened yet," I thought. "The new legislators could surprise everybody."

Well, I wasn't wrong. Just four months in, the legislators have surprised everybody. They've even brought Arkansas Republicans and Democrats together in a way no one expected: to protest, that is.

House Bill 1228 stands at the forefront of these protests. Inspired by Fayetteville's failed non-discrimination ordinance last year -- and a similar bill passed by Indiana just last week -- the bill purports to preserve religious freedom in the state. The bill states that laws neutral toward religion have the same potential to burden religious exercise as laws purposely intended to interfere with religious exercise, noting that local governments should not burden this right.

\While the bill's language -- which never mentions discrimination or the LGBTQ community -- could fool an ignorant Arkansan into believing it's all about religious freedom, it certainly is not. No, it is a direct response to the efforts of Fayetteville and Eureka Springs to establish non-discrimination ordinances, and it will prevent any other city in the state from extending civil rights in this way.

That is infuriating. What's more infuriating is that Arkansas legislators honestly believe they can frame the bill as a protection of religious freedom -- a protection already guaranteed to all Americans in the Bill of Rights -- to fool Christians statewide into supporting discrimination.

House Bill 1228 is a way for our legislators to take a political stand against the LGBTQ community and nothing else. Aside from my personal views on LGBTQ rights -- I believe they should exist, if you're wondering -- the bill will have negative results in nearly every facet at a state and federal level.

Businesses will start to pull out of the state soon, just as they already have in Indiana. Since this bill will lead to discrimination cases, the state will lose time and money. It's likely that many of these cases will be tried at a federal level, where the state of Arkansas will certainly lose and be forced to doll out more money. By the time our legislators realize that this bill is, in fact, a terrible idea, they'll have to waste more time and more money amending or removing it.

Most importantly, this bill paints an unflattering picture of Arkansans and Christians.

All Arkansans are not LGBT-hating, fear-mongering Republicans, despite what the passage of this bill will tell the rest of the nation. In fact, I'm pretty sure many Arkansas Republicans are disassociating themselves from the party because of this bill. Likewise, many Arkansas Democrats are using this bill to further perpetuate this stereotype -- which, at this point, isn't too far from the truth.

I'm admittedly not the most religious person in the world, but what I know about Jesus tells me that he'd probably be pretty upset with this. Discrimination isn't loving, even when it's being disguised as religious freedom.

So what would Jesus do?

He probably wouldn't be an Arkansas Republican right now, and he'd definitely urge Governor Hutchinson to veto House Bill 1228.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News.