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Issue 3 in Arkansas: What does this mean for religious freedom?

If passed, Issue 3 would ban state and local governments from "burdening the practice of religion" unless it proves a compelling reason to do so.

ARKANSAS, USA — Four issues to amend the Arkansas Constitution are up for a vote this November, one of which addresses religious freedom in the Natural State. 

What is Issue 3?

The "Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment" will add language to the state constitution to say that state and local governments may never "burden a person's freedom of religion" unless the government shows there is a compelling reason to do so and acts in the "least restrictive way."

If passed, a person could seek relief against the government for imposing on their religious freedom in a court or other governmental proceeding.

There is no definition for "burden" in this proposed amendment, it would be up to the courts to determine each case. 

How did this get on the ballot?

Arkansas Senator Jason Rapert and Representative Jimmy Gazaway are the main sponsors of this proposal. 

It was voted on by Arkansas senators and representatives to be put on the 2022 General Election Ballot. 

What does a vote "For" and "Against" mean?

According to research provided by the University of Arkansas (U of A):

A vote FOR the issue means you favor adding the amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would prohibit government entities from "burdening the practice of religion" unless it gives a compelling reason to do so.

Some supporters say the First Amendment has not changed, but the way courts interpret it has over the years. They say Issue 3 would help stop courts from "reinterpreting and undermining" the free exercise of religion in Arkansas.

A vote AGAINST means you are not in favor of adding an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution prohibiting state and local governments from "burdening the practice of religion." 

Some opponents of the proposed amendment claim it will safeguard religion from the government, but it would not safeguard the government from religion. They say it would allow religion to "burden" the government and it implicitly demands that the government allow that to happen.  

Don't we already have laws about government and religion?

Yes, federal and Arkansas laws regarding the freedom of religion already exist. 

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The 14th Amendment also extends protections of the First Amendment to the state and local levels. 

According to the U of A, in 2015 Arkansas lawmakers passed Act 975, a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This mirrors the federal law and says the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion. 

The U of A reports that state law refers to a federal test, or method, for determining whether a government has a compelling interest for substantially burdening the free exercise of religion.  

Act 975 explicitly exempts the Department of Correction, the Department of Community Correction, county jails and detention facilities, which means the law does not apply to these agencies.  

What's the difference?

Act 975 uses the word "substantially" when referring to burdening a person's religious freedom, while Issue 3 does not. Without that one word, Issue 3 would provide stricter limits on what a government can use as a reason to "burden" someone's religious rights. 

Issue 3 would also not allow exemptions for the Department of Correction, the Department of Community Correction, county jails and detention facilities.

If passed, Issue 3 would also change the state constitution, meaning it would have to go to a public vote in order to change. Whereas Act 975 can be changed by lawmakers during any legislative session.

Click here to read the full text of Issue 3.

RELATED: Arkansas voting guide for November 2022 election

RELATED: What would legalizing recreational marijuana in Arkansas mean?

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