Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Tuesday slammed the furor over religious freedom laws in Indiana and now in his home state, telling Newsmax that "religious freedom laws are shields to protect individuals, not swords.
"Critics of the Indiana law have distorted this legislation and created another phony crisis — and sadly many major corporations, organizations, and individuals have collapsed under the weight of the irrational pressure from the far left," said Huckabee, who is considering whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination for president in 2016.
Huckabee, 59, said the law "protects and preserves the religious freedoms of all Americans." He was the governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007.
The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a religious freedom bill
similar to the one Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed last week. Known as the Arkansas Religion Freedom Restoration Act, the measure passed with strong GOP support.
It succeeded despite protests from critics who say it could open the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill also survived Democratic attempts to send it back to committee, Arkansas Online reports.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who took over in January, has said he would sign the legislation.
Both the Arkansas and Indiana laws seek to keep the state government from forcing business owners to act against their religious beliefs, but critics say they could be used to justify refusing service to gay and lesbian people.
After a huge backlash since he signed Indiana's law last Thursday, Pence said on Tuesday that he would work to "fix" the law
— even though he defended its intent by stressing that it does not condone discrimination.
Pence asked state legislators to pass a fix this week. Top lawmakers said that they were working to clarify the law's intent. The regulation takes effect July 1.
"It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," the first-term GOP governor said at a news conference televised by Newsmax TV
and other media outlets. "We’ll fix this and we’ll move forward.
"There was never any intention in this law to create a license to discriminate and we’ll clarify that," Pence said. "It’s important to me in this process and we’ll do it in legislation."
Several top corporate executives, including Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook, have slammed Pence and state officials for passing the law.
The governor, 55, who also has been mentioned as a 2016 White House candidate, has also been derided for repeatedly refusing to answer a yes-or-no question regarding whether the law would allow discrimination.
Supporters have said the law is necessary to protect religious freedoms from government intrusion.
Pence has received support from several Republican presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
— as well as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio
, also of Florida, and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Huckabee told Newsmax that Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. The bill was supported by then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Thirty other states have similar laws.
"Where were the protests when President Clinton signed the original law back in 1993, which passed almost unanimously and when Senator Obama supported it in Illinois?" Huckabee asked.
"The substance of these laws have not changed," the former governor said. "What has changed is the anger, deception and intolerance from those on the left who assault our religious liberties."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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