In an interview with The Arkansas Project after the discussion, Ballinger said he is satisfied with the RFRA he sponsored and helped become law earlier in 2015.
I am very satisfied with the bill that we got. Unless the courts misinterpret it, I think that we essentially have the same bill that we started with.”
[The second version of the bill] “does everything that we were originally trying to accomplish. The issue is that it depends on how it’s going to be treated in court.”
As long as the courts read and interpret it consistent with federal law, which is what we were shooting with the original legislation, then I’m happy with it.
However, Tucker, an opponent of RFRA, said at the debate that he was considering introducing legislation that would change it by making lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “protected classes” under Arkansas law. This change might have adverse effects for many religious believers by opening them up to lawsuits from some LGBT advocacy groups.
However, such a change, if introduced in 2017, probably wouldn’t have much of a chance of gaining enough votes in the Legislature to become law. Tucker even admitted that “I don’t think it will probably get enacted in 2017.”
Ballinger also said in an interview that he thought Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s recent RFRA opinion was “extremely well-written.”
I think that she did an incredible job of analyzing it. I think that JPs should feel encouraged that they’ve got some protection under the state RFRA. It’s not real clear what the result would be in each case, but there’s no way for her to give that kind of clarity in an attorney general’s opinion.
I gathered from the discussion that we’re going to hear more about RFRA and other religious liberty issues in Arkansas in the near future.
Here’s how Rutledge described the protections RFRA offers Arkansans in her recent opinion:
If the ARFRA claimant can meet the threshold burden of showing that the law “substantially burdens” the claimant’s religious exercise, then the opposing party must show that the law is “[i]n furtherance of a compelling government interest” and that the burden on the claimant is the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. “
Contrary to many misguided opponents, RFRA is merely about ensuring government doesn’t “substantially burden” religious believers — it’s not actually about installing theocracy.
You can read Rutledge’s entire opinion on whether Justices of the Peace are protected under RFRA here.