Arkansas Senate passes religion bill seen as targeting gays

The Arkansas Senate overwhelmingly approved on Friday a Republican-backed bill whose authors say is intended to protect religious freedoms but critics contend could allow businesses to refuse service to gay people. The bill advancing in the Republican-led Arkansas legislature says “governments should not substantially burden the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.” Supporters say a business should not be forced to, for example, cater a same-sex wedding if doing so would violate the religious beliefs of the owner. Two of the most powerful companies in the United States, retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which has its home office in Arkansas, and technology giant Apple Inc have criticized the measure. “We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state,” a Walmart spokesman said in a statement.

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