Former Arkansas AG Pens Op-ed Against ‘Conscience Protection Act’

by HRC Staff


LITTLE ROCK—Today, former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel penned an op-ed appearing inthe Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, demonstrating strong arguments against HB1228, which suffered a key setback before the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee. As written, the bill would allow individuals to sue government actors—including teachers, firefighters and police officers—if that individual believed that their personal religious beliefs were being violated. McDaniel, now a partner at the law firm of McDaniel, Richardson & Calhoun PLLC, served as attorney general of Arkansas from 2007-2015. The full text of McDaniel’s op-ed is below.

“Arkansas is a state where discrimination has no place. Our true values are based on compassion and respect and lifting up one another.

It hasn't always been that way. When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer came to Little Rock in 2011 to discuss his latest book, he noted that the Cherokee who died on the Trail of Tears are buried within blocks of Central High School. Harsh memories of Arkansas' civil-rights history were invoked.

Fortunately, we've come a long way toward improving our reputation in the nation and the world in recent decades. The state is known now for Wal-Mart, Arkansas Children's Hospital, Stephens Inc., Tyson Foods, Crystal Bridges, the Clinton Library, the Clinton Foundation and much more. Our economy and quality of life are better than ever.

However, we have a long way to go before becoming all that we aspire to be. While I was in Washington, D.C., last week, a young man introduced himself and told me about all of the work he is now doing in our nation's capital. I quickly learned that this talented and successful young man grew up in Little Rock. I told him that I hope that someday he and his family will move home to Arkansas.

He responded with genuine sadness and said he could not move back as long as he and his husband would face legally sanctioned discrimination in his home state.

At that moment, all I could do was share his sadness, but I promised him that things will get better. I looked at him and said, "Don't ever give up on Arkansas."

I hope he was watching when leadership and courage and compassion fought back only days later. House and Senate Democrats have been organizing their opposition for weeks to House Bill 1228--the so-called "Conscience Protection Act." Legislators in both parties and in both houses perked up, however, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson let it be known that he too had concerns about the bill.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to advance HB1228 to the full Senate. That vote was important and exciting, but the bill's not dead yet.

Its supporters believe that HB1228 is about safeguarding religious freedom. While I was attorney general, we litigated many religious-freedom cases, and I've read this bill. Unfortunately, this bill does not protect religious freedom. HB1228 would allow, even empower, discrimination against our neighbors, friends and family members and act as a reminder of a past better left in the past.
The truth about HB1228 is that it would allow individuals and businesses across this state to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arkansans, to women, to religious minorities--and to any other Arkansan who may face regular discrimination.

The bill would also allow people to sue the state, government entities like towns and school districts, and even businesses if they think their personal religious beliefs are being burdened. That aspect may sound good, but this bill is a can of worms and a litigation nightmare.

The Arkansas Municipal League opposes this bill, knowing it will potentially cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Wal-Mart says this bill goes against the company's "core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas." And Governor Hutchinson ratcheted up his criticism of the bill in an interview saying that it raises "a lot of questions," and that it would generate "a great deal of litigation." They are all right.

Yes, HB1228 is bad for Arkansas businesses and taxpayers. But more than that, we must send the right message about who we are and what we believe as a state. Arkansas' best days are yet to come, and we must show all people, especially our own, that we reject discrimination and guard everyone's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


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