The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Arkansas Constitution includes the following protections:
All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can, of right, be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship; or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience; and no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment, denomination or mode of worship, above any other. (Article 2, § 24)
A simple, basic reading of these two foundational sections can lead to only one conclusion: That under the existing directives of Constitutional Law, the government cannot interfere with the free practice of our faith. Period. This includes, but is not limited to, the assembly together, the worship of our God in the way we believe is appropriate, and to outwardly testify OF our faith via the freedom of speech also afforded by the First Amendment. These sections also provide needed protection from mandates and actions against our consciences. A doctor cannot be lawfully penalized for not performing abortions, for example, if the practice violates his sincerely-held beliefs. Likewise, and relevant to the reason Arkansas Issue 3, initiated by State Senator Jason Rapert, was rushed through and placed on the ballot, is the issue of vaccinations – specifically the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak (COVID), in which many employers and the Federal Government mandated that employees (and military personnel) were forced under the threat of termination (Courts-marshall in the military) to receive the experimental injections for said virus. In the process, many were denied religious exemptions, even those who had successfully been exempted for other vaccinations.
But the primary impetus for the bill that placed Arkansas Issue 3 on the ballot was the threat of forced church closures under lockdowns. Several states and Canadian provinces, and multiple local municipalities issued enforced lockdowns of churches, prohibiting them from assembling together at all. Even after the threat of the virus declined, the same states (or municipalities) continued to impose (and enforce) draconian mandates for churches to reopen. But of note, our own governor (Asa Hutchinson) made it clear in multiple public appearances promoting the shutdowns of businesses and activities, that he (and the government) had no authority under the law or the Constitution to mandate churches shut their doors or even restrict attendance. Further, in the months following, church lawsuits against government entities for the forced shutdowns wound their way through the judicial process, and one-by-one, have been ruled in favor of the churches. Even in the more Christian-antagonistic states, courts have found that there was no legal grounds for shuttering churches or even interfering in their assembly. Fines have been issued, and prohibitions against such actions reinforced.
Unfortunately, some religious entities and organizations have found themselves (particularly since the outbreak of COVID) on the wrong side of the religious liberty battle. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest “protestant” denomination in America, and their EThics Religious Liberty Commission, at the time led by Dr. Russel Moore (a faithful Democrat), conflated masks (Moore even suggested believers should wear double masks, taking and eventually demanding that Christians should take the vaccine as a gospel issue – implying that believers are not loving their neighbors by refusing to mask up or take the vaccine. He also famously attacked small churches that grew during the pandemic due to their refusal to close or buy the public narrative regarding closures, masks, and vaccines.
Sadly, some entities, including the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (the state convention of the SBC) has come down in favor of Issue 3, along with other historically stalwart defenders of religious freedom: Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Council Action Committee. One has to ask the question: WHY? Let me present my concerns here.
Having posted the exact text of both the US Constitution and relevant section of the Arkansas Constitutional a starting point above, let us now explore the text of Arkansas Ballot Issue 3:
POPULAR NAME: A Constitutional Amendment to Create the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.”
BALLOT TITLE (legal title): An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to create the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment”; and to provide that government may never burden a person’s freedom of religion except in the rare circumstance that the government demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.
Feel free to open the entire text of Issue 3 and read the entire text. It relies on case law and the one whose rights have been infringed, to prove the state does NOT have a compelling interest. I have begged the question from Jerry Cox of Liberty Council, from Senator Jason Rapert, and many others with a hand in this. They all provide nearly the same boilerplate opinions and claims, yet never address the fundamental and amazingly clear facts of this: The proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution creates a brand new and dangerous doorway for state, county, or local governments to infringe on religious liberty – from prohibiting gathering together for worship, to evangelism events, community projects, protests, and yes – the elimination of “religious exemptions”, not just for experimental injections of vaccines, but literally for any matter of religious conscience, all under the guise of a “compelling government interest”.
Lest we forget, our own Federal Government, under the current godless leadership, has formally labeled Christians as one of the most risky groups as domestic terrorists (yet refuses to label proven terrorist groups like BLM and Antifa). Again – I ask why Senator Jason Rapert, a charismatic dumpster-fire of knee-jerk responses, seems to feel that adding more text and a free-swinging doorway for government interference is the appropriate path to supposedly “protecting” religious freedom. What compelling reason might these generally Conservative, Christian-supporting organizations have for jumping on the bandwagon for this ballot issue with such clear and concise language adding pathways for intrusion into the church (and all religious groups) for the government?
I can somewhat forgive the average low-information voter who doesn’t read beyond a ballot’s popular title. After all, what red-blooded American Christian would argue against an amendment with a title like “A Constitutional Amendment to Create the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment.“? My goodness – I might be a fool for opposing it, if that were all there was! But even the legal title, which is required by law to be an accurate summary of the issue’s text, is enough to send chills up any thinking person’s back. But the actual full text of the measure does not improve the legal trainwreck that Arkansas Ballot Issue 3 creates.
I implore you – do your homework, read the text of Issue 3 (and the others on the 2022 ballot) and cast an informed vote. I stand firmly against Issue 3.