I suspect this law, brought to us by Cathi Herrod's Center for Arizona Policy is one of those laws which claims to give us more "religious protections", but in reality will use the force of government to make us be good Christians.
New legislation would provide religious protections
By Alia Beard Rau The Republic | azcentral.com
Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:56 PM
A group of Arizona religious groups and conservative lawmakers quietly introduced legislation Thursday that would offer significant new religious protections.
The legislation was introduced as a strike-everything amendment to Senate Bill 1178 and given a hearing on one of the last days allowed for public hearings of bills. No one showed up to testify against it and civil rights groups were left scrambling to figure out what it actually does.
Conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, which was behind the amendment, says it simply updates current law and clarifies protections. The ACLU of Arizona disagrees.
“What you’re doing is creating an entirely new path for people to sidestep laws they don’t like by claiming religious freedom,” said ACLU of Arizona public policy director Anjali Abraham.
The amendment, which passed the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote with Republican support, makes it more difficult for a state or local government to enforce any law or rule that an individual says burdens their exercise of religion.
For example, instead of allowing an exception for laws that further a compelling governmental interest — such as public safety — the law under the proposed change would have to be “essential” to furthering the interest. It also adds protections for someone who feels a governmental action “is likely to” burden their religious freedom if the action is taken.
The legislation adds a definition of “burden” that covers “any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.” It covers criminal issues as well as civil ones.
Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said the bill brings Arizona’s religious freedom law up to date and requires courts to use a high legal bar called “strict scrutiny” when determining whether the state or local governments have the right to overrule someone’s religious freedom.
“It ensures Arizona maintains the highest level of protection for Arizona’s free exercise of religion,” he said.
He said he had been asked by other media whether the bill had anything to do with the issue of transgender individuals using certain bathrooms.
“My bill has nada, nothing, zero to do with a recent ordinance passed by the city of Phoenix,” he said, adding later that it also has nothing to do with proposals to add oversight in the FLDS enclave of Colorado City. “It’s not directed at any specific individual issue.”
Center for Arizona Policy legislative counsel Josh Kredit said the bill just tightens current law, particularly by adding a definition of burden.
He said part of the goal of the amendment is to prevent situations like that which occurred in Gilbert in 2005 when officials said a church sign advertising Sunday services was put up too early, in violation of the town’s sign ordinance.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld the sign ordinance, saying it didn't infringe on the First Amendment rights of Good News Presbyterian Church. Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization representing the church in court, has requested a hearing before the full 9th circuit.
Abraham said they were given no advance notice that the bill amendment was coming. She spent the morning trying to determine its impact and called it a “backdoor” attempt to sneak the legislation through late in the session. As a “striker” amendment, it only needed one public hearing instead of the usual two.
“It allows anybody to sidestep any state or local law or regulation in the name of exercising their religion,” Abraham said. “It is extremely broad. It could cover medicine, education, child welfare, domestic violence, the law, anything that falls under state and local governance.”
Abraham dismissed Yarbrough’s statement that the bill is simply a necessary update of existing law.
“This goes well beyond updating the law,” she said.
The bill still needs a vote of the full House and the full Senate before going to the governor.