Discrimination protection bill may have new life | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Discrimination protection bill may have new life

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 3:36 PM

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The Senate Judiciary Committee meets after adjournment today and those who believe in equal rights take notice: A huge push is underway, aided by Gov. Asa Hutchinson catering to the right-wing base, to move HB 1228 off the table.

This is the so-called "conscience protection act." It's a variant of cookie-cutter legislation being pushed by right-wing evangelicals around the country to use "conscience" or "religion" as a pretext to protect discrimination. It's an immediate reaction to same-sex marriage, but it goes much farther than providing protection for people who want to discriminate against gay people in the name of religion — whether in employment, housing or public accommodations.

It raises a range of issues that have proved troublesome — religious objection to limitations on drug use for example; church claims of exemption from zoning regulations and lots, lots more. But the core is the desperate effort by so-called Christians to be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people. I haven't yet heard of a merchant who refused service to a glutton, adulterer or white collar thief on account of those sins.

The Judiciary Committee has four Democrats who've held firm against some bad legislationon a committee chaired by Jeremy Hutchinson. It takes five of the eight members to approve a bill. Word of a potential change focuses on Sen. David Burnett.

The bill has been amended to make it slightly less offensive, but only slightly. The meat of the law:

A state action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the substantial burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the substantial burden to the person’s exercise of religion in this particular  instance:

(1) Is essential to further a compelling governmental interest;
 and
(2) Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. 

Jerry Cox, who leads the gay-hating Family Council in Arkansas is reportedly putting immense pressure on the governor. To hear Cox tell it, his forces won the election for Hutchinson. If Asa folds to Cox on this one, those peddling the "moderate Asa" meme can permanently hang it up.

UPDATE: Rep. Bob Ballinger, lead sponsor of the pro-discrimination bill, was on hand for the Senate committee meeting, but left and the bill did not come up today, Sen. Joyce Elliott said.

IN OTHER DISCRIMINATION NEWS: Rep. Greg Leding said he was dropping his bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to classes of people protected by the state civil rights law. He said it didn't have the votes for passage. No offense to Leding, who at least introduced the measure, but duh. This Republican legislature believes in discrimination against gay people.

PS: Maybe on the House side someone can add the amendment Rep. Emily Virgin attached in Oklahoma to their Discrimination Protection Act to say that discrimination with religion as a pretext is legal, but you must give notice. Examples: This Motel Does Not Rent Rooms to Adulterers on Account of our Adherence to Biblical Standards. This Business Does Not Hire Queers Because They are Sinners. And so on.

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