Arkansas Legislature sends third and final constitutional amendment concerning religious freedom to November 2022 ballot

On April 27, the Arkansas State Legislature passed a third constitutional amendment titled the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment,” which will appear on the state’s November 2022 ballot.

The measure would amend the state constitution to provide that “government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The amendment would provide an exception to this requirement if 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

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Arkansas State Senate and the Arkansas House of Representatives. The Arkansas Legislature is able to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot for each general election.

The amendment was passed in the Senate on April 22, 2021, by a vote of 27-4 with four members absent or not voting. The House passed the amendment on April 27, 2021, by a vote of 75-19 with six members absent or not voting. The measure was passed along party lines with most Republicans in favor and Democrats against it. Republican Representative Josh Miller was the only Republican legislator to vote against the amendment. Larry Teague was the only Democratic legislator to vote in favor of the amendment.

One of the other referred amendments would require 60% supermajority voter approval to ratify constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes. The other amendment would allow the state legislature to call itself into special sessions. Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor can call a special session.

A total of 44 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in even-numbered years between 2000 and 2020. During even-numbered years between 2000 and 2020, 73% (32 of 44) of statewide ballot measures in Arkansas were approved by voters, and 27% (12 of 44) were defeated.

The amendments to prohibit government burdens on religious freedom and to allow the state legislature to call itself into special session were proposed at least partially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions and government responses. Ballotpedia has tracked at least seven statewide measures put on the ballot in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related regulations. Ballotpedia is also tracking seven potential statewide measures proposed in response to COVID-19.

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