Post submitted by Adam Talbot, former HRC Deputy Communications Director

Today, HRC issued an updated primer for reporters on a wave of more than 30 bills threatening LGBT equality in the guise of “religious freedom” across the country.

In addition, HRC is specifically spotlighting the harm these bills will do to jobs and economic activity in the states where they are being considered.

This week, in response to one such anti-LGBT bill threatening economic growth and business in Arkansas, both Apple and Wal-mart spoke out in opposition to precisely these kind of bills.

In a statement, Apple noted, "our employees in Little Rock have a right to equal treatment under the law, as do their coworkers in Cupertino and around the world. We join the many voices across Arkansas in opposing H.B. 1228 and we urge the State's legislators to vote against the bill."

Wal-Mart offered similar criticism: “While H.B. 1228 will not change how we treat our associates and operate our business, we feel this legislation is also counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state.”

“Americans believe strongly in the right to religious freedom, but these bills aren't about protecting personal religious practice,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “In more than a dozen states, legislation is being pushed forward that hides discrimination against minority groups in the guise of religious belief. Many of these bills could critically undermine the enforcement of state non-discrimination protections, and passing them will do serious harm to the business climate of these states—exposing small business owners to a wave of lawsuits, putting jobs at risk, and making major corporations think twice about investing in states that previously had pro-business reputations.”

Wal-Mart and Apple are not alone. Last year, major multinational corporations including American Airlines, Marriott, PetSmart and many other companies came out against a similar bill in Arizona, concerned about how it would hurt their business and risk millions in economic activity if it became law.

The potential harms are clear. In many cases, these extreme bills will permit anyone to sue a government entity or business executing a government policy over their personal religious beliefs.

The bills—many modeled on a failed attempt in Arizona last year that drew condemnation from businesses, faith communities, and elected officials in both parties—put all state non-discrimination laws at risk of being undermined. They threaten not just the LGBT community, but women, members of minority faiths and other minority classes.

As the report notes, the harm these bills may cause doesn’t end with the LGBT community. Under many proposed bills, an evangelical police officer could feel empowered to refuse to patrol a Jewish street festival; a city clerk could shirk the law and refuse a marriage license to an interracial couple, a divorcee seeking to remarry, or a lesbian couple; an EMT could claim the law is on his side after refusing service to a dying transgender person in the street; and the enforcement of other key sections of civil rights law could be dramatically undermined.

For more information on these dangerous anti-equality and anti-business bills, visit: www.hrc.org/RFRA


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