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Faith-based discipline measure advances in the Arizona house

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PHOENIX — In what supporters describe as a pre-emptive and protective measure, Arizona House lawmakers on Monday advanced legal protections for workers who deny services to potential clients on religious grounds.

Proponents acknowledge that there were no known incidents of faith-based discipline in Arizona but say the bill is a reaction to cases in states such as Michigan — where a student counselor was disciplined after refusing to work with a gay client, saying she did so because of her religious beliefs.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, introduced the legislation, saying it's "fundamentally wrong" that if "you don't affirm the particular lifestyle, then your license is going to be at risk."

Critics say the bill endangers public safety.

Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist who represents several health-related state boards, says the measure allows "a licensee to commit unprofessional conduct simply because they can play a religious freedom component that may or may not exist."

The measure ensures Arizona workers would not lose their professional licenses for denying services on religious grounds.

The bill is a broader version of the so-called conscience clause, which many states — including Arizona — have recognized for pharmacists, physicians or other health care workers who decline to perform abortions or prescribe emergency contraceptives.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass.