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Arkansas Governor Wants Changes to Controversial Religious Freedom Bill, Says His State 'Wants to Be a Place of Tolerance


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is calling for changes to a controversial religious freedom bill that made its way to his desk on Tuesday, claiming that he won't sign the text in its current form, according to the Associated Press.

The Republican governor is asking leaders to amend the language of HB1228 to ensure that the measure is more in line with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law that was passed in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton.

"I've asked them to recall it and change the language," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Hutchinson's call comes as the state's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act faces backlash from gay rights groups and others who fear that it will open the door to discrimination, though proponents claim the measure would protect individuals from burdens on their faith.

Watch his comments below:

The governor had initially indicated that he would support the bill, though he now seeks an official clarification to the text, claiming that he wants Arkansas "to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance."

"It has been my intention all along to have House Bill 1228 to mirror the federal act," Hutchinson said, claiming that the current law in its current form doesn't fit that mold. "I want to make it clear that Arkansas wants to be a place of tolerance."

The apparent change-of-heart comes after intense protests, including a statement from Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is based in the state of Arkansas.

"Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on out associates, customers and communities we serve. It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual," the statement read. "Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold."

McMillon continued, "For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."

Hutchinson's announcement comes one day after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called for an identical legislative clarification to a similar law that has created controversy in his state.

Pence said during a press conference on Tuesday that incorrect statements made by advocates opposed to a religious freedom law and “sloppy reporting” have contributed to the outrage directed at his state in recent days, after calling for a legislative clarification to the contentious law.

“We’ve got a perception problem here, because some people have a different view and we intend to correct that,” he said. “After much reflection and in consultation with leadership of the general assembly … it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this bill does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”

Nineteen other states have laws on the books already that are similar to these religious freedom measures, though critics fear discrimination, as homosexuality isn't a protected class in Indiana and Arkansas, according to NPR.

This is a breaking news story. Stay tuned for updates.

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