LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, on Tuesday asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the freshly-passed HB 1228, a so-called “religious freedom” bill that is really a “religious bigotry” law.
Despite a nationwide furor over a similar law in Indiana that has prompted boycotts and the loss of millions of dollars of business, lawmakers in red state Arkansas cast a blind eye to public opinion and passed HB 1228 on Tuesday.
The Arkansas House approved the measure with more than 60 votes in favor, in a series of actions to adopt amendments made in the state Senate, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The bill now goes to Gov. Hutchinson, a Republican, who has said he would sign it, if the measure resembled laws passed by other states. A spokesman for Hutchinson said Tuesday he will comment on the bill on Wednesday, the Journal reported.
HB 1228 would permit discrimination against LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, women and other minority groups across the state based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
Immediately after the bill was passed, Wal-Mart released a statement from its CEO, Doug McMillan, asking the governor to veto the bill. In the statement, McMillan says:
“Every day in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve. It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of H.B. 1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.”
HB1228, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, could allow any person to ignore state laws and cite their personal religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against others. For instance, a teacher who puts an anti-bullying policy into practice could be at risk of being sued, or a police officer could sue their precinct because patrolling a synagogue violated their religious beliefs, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Wal-Mart joins dozens of corporate leaders and businesses who have condemned the legislation, including Apple and its CEO Tim Cook; Acxiom, one of Arkansas’ largest employers; Yelp; PayPal; the Arkansas Municipal League and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Similar legislation signed into law in Indiana has received a torrent of criticism, as companies like Salesforce, Angie’s List and others have stated that they will cut back on or limit investment in the state of Indiana because of the discriminatory new law.
If Governor Hutchinson signs HB 1228 into law, it will be the second piece of anti-LGBT legislation to become law in Arkansas this year. In February, the legislature passed SB 202, prohibiting municipalities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people. Governor Hutchinson allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
“The legislation is shameful, pure and simple. Governor Hutchinson has a moral duty to veto this legislation, or his reputation will be forever stained by siding with a divisive political faction over the rights of his own people–and by dragging my home state toward the wrong side of history,” said Arkansas native Chad Griffin, HRC president.