Freedom of conscience Bill passed in Arkansas

Tue, 17 Feb 2015

A Bill protecting freedom of conscience has been passed by the US state of Arkansas’ House of Representatives.

On Friday, politicians voted in favour of the Conscience Protection Act, which is modelled on an existing federal law introduced 20 years ago.

The Bill would prevent local or state governments from placing a “substantial burden” on someone’s right to exercise their religion.

‘Infringe’

Republican Representative Bob Ballinger, who tabled the legislation, said: “This gives a tool for citizens to say, ‘hold on a second, this does infringe on my First Amendment rights’ and allow them to adjudicate that.”

He gave examples of Muslims not being forced to “deal in pork” or Christian ministers being able to decline to conduct gay marriages.

Last week, the US state of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives passed a Bill allowing ministers to decline to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Conscience

Politicians voted 88-7 in favour of the legislation, which prevents legal action being taken against ministers who refuse to recognise a marriage that goes against their “conscience or religious beliefs”.

Republican Representative David Brumbaugh introduced the Bill at the request of pastors in his district, following a US Supreme Court decision last year which redefined marriage in the state.

The Bill is now set to be looked at by Oklahoma’s Senate.

Reasonable accommodation

In Northern Ireland, DUP MLA Paul Givan is hoping to introduce a ‘conscience clause’ by amending equality legislation.

He has launched a consultation on his Private Member’s Bill, which would give reasonable accommodation to people who have strongly-held religious beliefs.