Forget Indiana... let's move the fight to Arkansas

Now that Mike Pence is “fixing” the RFRA in Indiana, it remains to be seen whether or not the Left will receive a sufficiently beefy pound of flesh to leave the Hoosiers alone. But as far as the media circus goes, it may not matter because a new squirrel has appeared on the horizon for these dogs to chase. As of yesterday, the Arkansas legislature has passed a bill which is essentially identical to Indiana’s RFRA (even carrying the same name) and sent it to the desk of Governor Asa Hutchinson for action.

Amid intense criticism of Indiana’s religious liberties law, which has prompted lawmakers in that state to vow to fix the legislation, another state charged ahead with a similar measure. Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday passed their own religious freedom bill, putting the state on the verge of formally adopting a law that could lead to another firestorm.

On Tuesday afternoon, after some debate in the state House of Representatives, lawmakers signed off on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law now heads to the desk of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who has said he intends to sign it into law.

“This legislation doesn’t allow anybody to discriminate against anybody, not here,” State Rep. Bob Ballinger, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The bill does just the opposite. It focuses on the civil rights of people believing what they want to believe, and not letting the government interfere with that.”

I noticed that the Armies of Perpetual Outrage have emerged from their muddled, often self-contradictory criticisms of the RFRA in Indiana with one bit of progress. They’ve finally settled on what was “wrong” with the bill Mike Pence signed after their first sixty or seventy complaints fell flat. It’s all about the corporate personhood, baby!

Ballinger said that the bill he sponsored is similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the laws in place in other states. However, critics say that the bill in Arkansas — as well as the Indiana law — are dissimilar because of how they allow companies the same religious rights as individuals.

“It’s substantively different from other laws that are on the books in other states, and it’s right in line with Indiana’s,” Adam Talbot, a spokesman for the Human Rights Council, said Monday. “Indiana and Arkansas both grant ‘personhood’ to all corporations.”

If that’s the best they’re going to come up with, Indiana probably didn’t need to worry about anything beyond organized blackmail from well monied critics, particularly after Hobby Lobby. In some ways it was at least a marginally clever stroke from the public relations perspective because progressive activists can always whip up a few extra donations for any cause if they can invoke the specter of Big Business and Corporate Fat Cats in any given discussion. Unfortunately, no amount of verbigeration on this subject is going to change the underlying reality which has already been blessed by the courts. When you’re speaking of any business entity from a one person, owner-operated bakery, flower shop or photography studio to a corporate leviathan like Apple, there are human beings behind the company logo. And those people are also citizens with the same rights as everyone else.

It will be interesting to see if the fight plays out differently in Arkansas. These cases have so little to do with gay marriage to begin with that the entire food fight would be humorous if the consequences of losing didn’t loom so large. But even if Mike Pence “caved” this week, should that signal a similar, week kneed approach for Hutchinson? David French sees no reason for it.

By now, Republicans should know this drill. Any move to protect religious liberty, restrict abortion, or to keep men from playing women’s sports is likely to be met with a Twitter avalanche, calls for boycotts, dozens of hours of breathless MSNBC coverage, and a full Mainstream Media news cycle of outrage.

But so what?

If Republican politicians can’t effectively defend a basic religious-freedom law from a fundamentally misleading far-Left attack, answering lies and fury with truth and firm conviction, then we need new Republican politicians. After all, your base stands with you, your critics are largely not your voters, and — even better — they’re far more vulnerable than you are.

While it would be a long and dispendious process, perhaps the RFRA question is yet another front in the ongoing battle which needs to be run up the pole, challenged by liberal opponents and wrung through the courts. It’s a battle worth fighting no matter the outcome and speaks to the larger question of whether or not these “protected classes” which we keep defining are truly being assured an equal measure of rights with everyone else or being defined as a superior class at the expense of a politically unpopular majority. A few such rulings which declare that the term “equality” applies to everyone and not just aggrieved subsets of the population might force some reason into the conversation going forward.