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Church State Issues

Controversial bill to expand religious protections advances

Jan 19, 2014

Arizona Republic

Most of these so called "protections" already exist and are unneeded. On the other hand almost everything Kathy Harrod's Center for Arizona Policy does is an attempt to force their brand of Christianity on the rest of us using government.

By Alia Beard Rau The Republic | Sun Jan 19, 2014 1:42 AM

Among the first bills moving through the Legislature this session is one that would provide significant new religious protections, some say to the point of legalizing discrimination.

Senate Bill 1062, pushed by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and introduced by Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit filed by another individual.

Specifically, the bill 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;

and expand those protected under the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”

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. [Those are already rights a person has!!!! No one, other then prisoners can be forced to work at a job they refuse to accept]

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. [Again businesses have the right to pick and choose their customers and employees]

Similar debates have occurred nationwide as more states legalize same-sex marriage.

Some states that have legalized same-sex marriage exempt religious officials from any legal requirement to perform such ceremonies. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Arizona.

Yarbrough called the bill a “modest clarification” of the state’s existing religious-freedom law.

“Prohibited discrimination remains prohibited,” he said. “In no way does this bill allow discrimination of any kind.”

But Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, said state law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

State law does offer protections based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or disability.

“To swing the pendulum too far toward religion would upset the delicate balance,” Wininger said. “It is wrong to treat people differently because of who they are.”

The bill passed the Senate Government and Environment Committee 4-2 on Thursday, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

“In America, people are supposed to be free to live and work according to their faith,” said Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, in support of the bill. [And they already are without this law]

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, was among the dissenting votes.

“I don’t oppose anyone’s right to their religious freedom, but people have a right to access goods and services,” she said. “This infringes on other people’s rights.”

The bill has a strong chance of becoming law.

It is nearly identical to one last year the Legislature passed but Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed.

The bill’s death was more due to the political battle over Medicaid expansion than any objection to the legislation on Brewer’s part.

“I warned that I would not sign additional measures into law until we see resolution of the two most pressing issues facing us: adoption of a Fiscal 2014 state budget and plan for Medicaid,” Brewer wrote in her veto letter.

The House and the Senate must pass the bill before it goes to the governor.