The Arizona Legislature has passed a controversial religion bill that is again thrusting Arizona into the national spotlight in a debate over discrimination.
House Bill 2153/Senate Bill 1062, written by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense against a lawsuit.
The bill, which was introduced last month and has been described by opponents as discriminatory against gays and lesbians, has drawn national media coverage. Discussion of the bill went viral on social media during the House floor debate Thursday.
Opponents have dubbed it the “right to discriminate” bill and say it could prompt an economic backlash against the state, similar to what they say occurred when the state passed the controversial immigration law Senate Bill 1070 in 2010.
Proponents argue that the bill is simply a tweak to existing state religious-freedom laws to ensure individuals and businesses are not forced to do something that goes against their beliefs.
The bill will be sent to Gov. Jan Brewer, who has five days to sign it into law, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council sent a letter this morning to Brewer, urging her to veto the measure.
Specifically, the legislation proposes to:
-- Expand the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion.
-- Allow someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings.
-- Expand those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
-- Establish wording that says that in order to assert a free-exercise-of-religion defense, the individual, business or church must establish that its action is motivated by a religious belief, that the belief is sincerely held and that the belief is substantially burdened.
The votes on the bill were mostly along party lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. Three Republicans — Ethan Orr, Kate Brophy-McGee and Heather Carter — voted against it.
Proponents say the bill would, for example, protect a wedding photographer who declined to take photos of a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony due to the photographer’s religious beliefs.
“We are trying to protect people’s religious liberties,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park. “We don’t want the government coming in and forcing somebody to act against their religious sacred faith beliefs or having to sell out if you are a small-business owner.”
But opponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.
“The message that’s interpreted is: ‘We want you to work here, but we are not going to go out of our way to protect you, to protect your rights, to protect your family,’ ” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “God forbid should someone come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in.”
Similar debates have occurred nationwide this year as other states tackle the topic, but Arizona is believed to be the first to pass a religious-protection bill this broad.
As you can see, Ms. Rau did her best to present BOTH sides of the debate and she actually gave a rundown of what the legislation actually does. By contrast, the Daily Beast runs with the language that the bill's opponents use as though it were neutral language.
Perhaps the bill in question is an unwise but well-meaning maneuver to stave off a real problem: religious business owners being dragged into court for say, simply declining the opportunity to cater, provide flowers for, or photograph a same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony.
Obviously many socially-liberal folks in the media will personally disdain legislation like this, but they owe it to their readers to give both sides of the debate and consider the religious freedom implications that might accompany state legislatures simply doing nothing.
And lastly, comparisons to Jim Crow are needlessly inflammatory and insulting to real victims of Jim Crow repression and violence. What's more, Jim Crow laws FORCED businesses -- and in some cases religious institutions -- to discriminate against patrons -- or, in the case of churches, worshiper -- whether or not the business owner wanted to discriminate or not.
In the Jim Crow South, a free market remedy to discrimination was impossible thanks to government requiring all business owners of all races to discriminate and/or segregate in some manner. By contrast, laws being considered in Kansas and Arizona would leave plenty of room for competitors to open their doors wides to all comers and pick up the business both of gay persons and straight individuals who would rather not patronize a business which refuses to work with gays and lesbians.
Again, there's a reasonable debate to be had about whether such a free-market remedy is "enough" to address the real or perceived injustice of the matter, but the fact remains that Jim Crow FORCED discrimination whereas laws being considered in statehouses in 2014 are about allowing business owners to make business decisions which obviously threaten their bottom line while adhering to their religious scruples.