As expected, Rep. Bob Ballinger's
'conscience protection' legislation passed the House easily this morning, 72-20.
Ballinger defended it as nearly innocuous legislation, similar to that passed in more than three dozen other states to require heightened state scrutiny when people raise a religious defense of actions. A religious objection alone wouldn't suffice. It would have to be balanced against a compelling public interest.
Ballinger insisted, for example, that a county clerk couldn't refuse to issue a same-sex marriage license on religious grounds, should it become legal in Arkansas, because issuance of marriage licenses was a compelling public interest.
Rep. John Walker
opposed the bill. He said existing standards work well, with no litigation resulting from the current standard. He feared that religious grounds could use religion as a pretext to discriminate against someone on the basis of skin color or other characteristic, such as sexual orientation. "I don't think you should be able to load a wagon to go into town just to make a little noise."
The bill goes to the Senate.