So what's different?
"The simple answer is that Utah did not pass a RFRA," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. "Utah passed a law that protects people of faith and gay and transgender Utahns from discrimination in housing and employment. That's very different."
RFRA is short for Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation which is designed to ensure that religious-liberty interests are protected. A federal RFRA, pronounced "riff-ruh," cleared Congress in 1993. It requires government to accommodate an individual's religious beliefs, unless there is a compelling interest at stake.
Under a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the law cannot be applied to states, so, in 1999, states began adopting their own RFRA laws. To date, 21 states have enacted RFRAs, including Indiana and Arkansas.
As they have most often been used, RFRAs can provide important protections for people of faith, said Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for Utah's American Civil Liberties Union chapter. A Muslim denied the right to wear a headscarf, for example, would be shielded under a RFRA and would have grounds to sue.
"It's this idea that the government can't burden your ability to practice your religion, or shouldn't, unless there is a compelling interest," Lowe said. "Public safety, for example, might be a compelling interest."
Utah has no RFRA law on the books, but might have if state lawmakers had passed HB322, a proposal from Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, which sought to grant wide protections for religious conscience and would have allowed individuals to use religious freedom as a defense in discrimination lawsuits.
House lawmakers passed the bill, but it failed in the Senate in the final hours of the legislative session.
HB322's intent mirrored the current national trend to extend RFRA safeguards to private individuals, Lowe said. Its protections were potentially so broad that Lowe called it "worse than Indiana's" original proposal.
"When a religious-freedom law starts being used almost as a sword to go against somebody's civil rights," Lowe said, "that's when we have a problem."
On Thursday, Indiana and Arkansas passed retooled versions of their respective RFRA proposals, The Associated Press reported.
Arkansas' revised measure resembles the federal RFRA and addresses actions only by the government, not those of individuals or businesses.
Indiana's revised measure prohibits businesses or service providers from using the law as a defense for refusing goods or services. It also bars discrimination based on a number of classifications, including race, color, religion, ancestry age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Indiana law exempts churches, affiliated religious schools and nonprofit religious organizations from its rules, the AP reported.
Utah's SB296 has different and more specific goals than the laws passed by Arkansas and Indiana, although it also makes concessions to religious organizations.