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Human Rights Campaign hopes to fight Arkansas’ religious freedom bill by scaring away Silicon Valley

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) says he will sign the religious freedom bill. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The Human Rights Campaign is planning an end run around the Arkansas legislature.

In its fight against a bill that it argues would endorse discrimination against the gay, lesbian, queer and transgender community, HRC plans to hit the state where it hurts: its attempts at recruiting businesses.

The large gay rights group plans to run the full-page ad included at the end of this post in the Sunday edition of The San Jose Mercury News, the largest newspaper in Silicon Valley, which is home to the the kinds of tech businesses Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has been trying to woo. Digital versions of the ad will begin running today, including on properties owned by The Wall Street Journal.

The bill HRC is fighting sets a high bar on infringement of religious beliefs, banning the state and local governments from burdening those beliefs unless it can prove that it has a “compelling government interest” in doing so. Proponents say it’s merely an attempt to protect religious freedom, while HRC says it’s really a smokescreen for allowing anti-LGBT discrimination.

The Arkansas bill passed the House in a 72 to 20 vote last month, with the Senate now poised to take it up. On Thursday, Hutchinson said he plans to sign it into law if it reaches his desk, the same day that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a similar measure into law. Last month, Hutchinson allowed another bill — S.B. 202 — to become law without his signature. That law bans local governments from adding anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

[Indiana may lose Disciples of Christ convention over bill allowing businesses to decline service to gay couples]

HRC President Chad Griffin also plans to deliver a formal invitation to Hutchinson today to join Griffin in speaking to the heads of several major corporations deemed to be supportive of gay employees.

“Many of these companies have spoken out publicly in opposition to legislation like H.B. 1228,” the bill opposed by the group, Griffin writes. “Many of them create the high-tech jobs you argue Arkansas hopes to attract every day. I suspect many of these firms will have questions for you — especially as it relates to H.B. 1228, as well as another piece of anti-LGBT legislation, S.B. 202, which you allowed to become law.”

The current bill — H.B. 1228 — is modeled on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, versions of have been enacted in 19 states, with more than a dozen considering adding them this year, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.