by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Christian conservatives who are pushing RFRAs around the country say they come in two models: the Cadillac and the Rolls-Royce. [Georgia state Sen. Josh] McKoon’s bill, which shields individuals from government intrusion, falls into the Cadillac category. The more ambitious Rolls-Royce versions extend protections for business owners who want to run their companies according to their personal religious beliefs and cover disputes between private parties that don’t involve the government. The bill that Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence signed on March 26, drawing widespread public condemnation from liberal groups and business interests, was a Rolls-Royce. “I think states will have to count the costs of passing a Rolls-Royce version of RFRA because of what happened in Indiana and Arkansas,” says Bruce Hausknecht, a judicial analyst for Focus on the Family, the evangelical group. “Everyone recognizes what the Rolls-Royce looks like, but the political differences on the ground in each state necessitate getting done what you can get done.”
Through its political advocacy arm, Citizenlink, and 38 state affiliates known as Family Policy Councils, Focus on the Family has been central to bringing RFRA bills to state legislators. Activists have long settled for Cadillac legislation they could get passed, but recent Republican gains in state houses have emboldened them to push for Rolls-Royce bills. Lawmakers passed them last year in Arizona and this year in Indiana and Arkansas.
The bills drew protests from corporations such as Wal-Mart and Apple and from liberal advocacy groups. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a Rolls-Royce. Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson refused to sign his state’s until it was amended to remove language extending protections to corporations and covering private lawsuits, turning it into a Cadillac. Indiana’s Pence initially defended his decision to sign a Rolls-Royce before asking the legislature to add anti-discrimination language.