Law to Project ‘Exercise of Religion’ Draws Criticism

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LITTLE ROCK, AR — A law supporters say is designed to protect religious freedom passed a House committee Tuesday, despite concerns about its impact.

The bill is being called the “Conscience Protection Act.”

The bill’s sponsor says it guards religious freedom from being burdened by the state, but opponents lined up during a nearly two hour long hearing.

From religious leaders to officials representing cities and school districts, speakers warned about the impact of HB-1228.

The bill says it’s a defense against a person “whose exercise of religion is burdened by state action.”  Sponsor Bob Ballinger, a Republican from Madison County, gave the example of a religious school facing a lawsuit for turning away a transgender teacher.

With his bill in place “they would of had a defense to say, ‘hold on that’s not consistent with a deeply held religious belief,'” Ballinger said.

Opponents warn the bill would have unintended consequences.  It would allow people to challenge everything from having to pay taxes to testifying in court “based on[an interpretation], for instance, [of]the New Testament or the Old Testament,” said Michael Mosley with the Arkansas Municipal League.

He says religious beliefs are already protected under state and federal laws. 

Mosley believes the new bill would encourage a flood of lawsuits.

Other speakers questioned whether the bill would allow discrimination of certain groups.

Asked whether his bill could be seen as an attack on homosexuals, Ballinger responded:

“That’s not what this is about.  What this is about is protecting people’s religious convictions.”

The bill was approved on a voice vote.  The next stop is the full House.

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