On Thursday, February 20th, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bill 1062 by a 33-27 vote. SB 1062 re-defines and expands the state’s definition of “exercise of religion” and “state action” to protect businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits after denying services based on a “sincere religious belief”. According to the bill, “A person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or a defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.” Governor Brewer, who vetoed similar legislation last year, has five days from Thursday to sign or veto the bill.
The bill is backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law. “As we witness hostility towards people of faith grow like never before, we must take this opportunity to speak up for religious liberty,” the group said on its website, asking people to contact Brewer and urge her to sign the bill. “The great news is that SB 1062 protects your right to live and work according to your faith.” Republicans stressed that the bill is about “protecting religious freedom and not discrimination”. They frequently cited the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people in the state from heavy-handed actions by courts and law enforcement.
But Arizona already has laws in place that protect religious liberty. According to Arizona Revised Statutes 41-1493.01, the free exercise of religion is a protected and fundamental right. So how does SB 1062 protect religious liberty? Serving gays and lesbians in the commercial marketplace doesn’t infringe upon your right to practice the religion of your choice. However, it is a means of giving businesses the license to discriminate.
Republican legislators have defended the bill as a First Amendment issue. Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during the Senate debate. “This bill is not about allowing discrimination,”he said. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Of the First Amendment, The First Amendment Center says, “The establishment clause separates church from state, but not religion from politics or public life. Individual citizens are free to bring their religious convictions into the public arena. But the government is prohibited from favoring one religious view over another or even favoring religion over non-religion.” SB 1062 sounds like it is heavily in favor of religion over a whole class of people.
Civil rights were litigated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects classes of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin (but not sexual orientation). Like many issues pertaining to the application of constitutional law, the laws against discrimination in public accommodations is in a constant state of change. Some argue that anti-discrimination laws in matters of public accommodations create a conflict between the ideal of equality and individual rights. Does the guaranteed right to public access mean the business owner’s private right to exclude is violated? Generally, courts have decided that the constitutional interest in providing equal access to public accommodations outweighs the individual liberties involved.
The Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School says, “If there is a constitutional requirement for accommodation of religious conduct, it will most likely be found in the Free Exercise Clause. Some say, though, that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause for the government to give any special benefit or recognition of religion. In that case, we have a First Amendment in conflict with itself—the Establishment Clause forbidding what the Free Exercise Clause requires (Michael McConnell, Religion and the Constitution, 2002, pg. 102).
Although the decisions of the courts are not all consistent, with Section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) being struck down and many states passing laws in favor of equality for same-sex unions, anti-discrimination laws are much more in keeping with the will of most Americans who see anti-gay policies as discriminatory and against the spirit and letter of the Civil Rights Act. Although gay and lesbians are still considered an “unprotected” class of people, they are still people, citizens, and taxpayers. Allowing, much less legislating, discrimination against them is going backward.
Supporters of this bill define its critics as “opponents of religious liberty” however, no infringement upon religious rights occur when gays and lesbians get the same treatment, goods and services afforded to everyone else. “The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is.”
I agree. What do YOU think Blog Rollers?