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Should a pharmacist be required to dispense the morning-after pill?

Should a cab driver be forced to transport passengers drinking alcohol?

Should an attorney be prohibited from rejecting a client whose beliefs conflict with her own?

More and more professions require state licensing—from child-care providers to marriage counselors to retailers of frozen desserts. The intent is to raise the quality of services Americans receive. But experts also say that licensing has opened up a new front in the religious freedom debates.

Nearly a quarter of U.S. workers are now required to obtain state licenses, a nearly fivefold increase from 60 years ago, according to University of Minnesota labor professor Morris Kleiner. At least 1,100 professions are licensed in at least one state, up 38 percent since the mid-1980s, according to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement, and Regulation trade group.

Besides requiring more licenses, states are putting more conditions on them, and often doing so in ways that clash with traditional religious beliefs, said Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

"When you put all three of those things together," he said, "I think we have every reason to think there will be increasing religious or conscientious conflicts."

Robert Vischer, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, agreed: "These debates are only going to increase in frequency and intensity."

Such concerns prompted the Arizona legislature to pass a bill this spring that would have made that state the first to explicitly protect professionals from having their license or certification revoked because of religious practices.

Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, voicing concerns ...

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June 2011

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