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Arizona Legislature OKs religion bill; on way to Gov. Brewer

Feb 22, 2014

Arizona Republic

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy or Cathi Harrod as I have been calling her I believe this bill was created by Cathi Harrod and her Center for Arizona Policy, which seems to specialize in creating laws which will be used to force Cathi Harrod's version of Christianity on the rest of the citizens of Arizona.

The law is given an oxymoron label saying that it will create religious freedom, when in reality it will allow the Christian majority to force their religious views on the rest of the citizens of Arizona.

Now if you think selling contraceptives or liquor is something that disagrees with your religious views you can refuse to get a job which requires you to sell contraceptives or liquor.

If this bill is signed into law, a person who works at a drug store, or liquor store will be allowed to refuse to sell these things under a guise that selling them is a violation of their religious freedom. Or could refuse to serve customers who are homosexuals, Jews, Arabs, or Blacks under the guise that serving homosexuals, Jews, Arabs or Blacks is against their religious views.

Of course the correct answer to this problem is already available - don't get a job which involves work which disagrees with your religious beliefs. If you think liquor stores are sinful then don't get a job in one.

I suspect the Religious right is hoping to use this law to force drug stores to hire pro-life Christians who will then refuse to sell contraceptives to people, forcing the pro-life Christian views of the laws sponsors on the rest of us.

Arizona Legislature OKs religion bill; on way to Gov. Brewer

By Alia Beard Rau The Republic | Thu Feb 20, 2014 11:21 PM

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, 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.

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.

Its approval comes a week after Republican lawmakers in Kansas introduced legislation that would have exempted individuals from providing any service that was “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

That bill passed the state’s House chamber on Feb. 11, causing a wave of national backlash. It has since stalled in the Senate and is not expected to advance this year.

Republican lawmakers in South Dakota introduced a bill last month that would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples on the basis that “businesses are private and that their views on sexual orientation are protected to the same extent as the views of private citizens.”

That bill would have made it illegal for a gay person to file a lawsuit charging discrimination. The bill and a similar one in Tennessee were killed this week.

A ballot initiative in Oregon would allow business owners to refuse to serve same-sex couples “if doing so would violate a person’s deeply held religious beliefs.” It could be voted on this year alongside another initiative that would legalize same-sex marriages.

During nearly three hours of emotional House debate on Arizona’s bill Thursday, Republicans and Democrats disagreed vehemently on what the bill would actually do.

“The result of this bill is discrimination, period. This bill is going to hurt the LGBT community,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said the measure has nothing to do with the LGBT community because it is currently not protected under state discrimination laws.

“A business owner can already decide not to hire somebody who is gay or lesbian. This doesn’t change that,” he said. “You guys are trying to make this something that doesn’t exist. These are small changes.”

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the bill protects the religious from persecution.

“The descendants of the people who fled religious persecution are now being criminally prosecuted by politically correct governments,” he said. “All this bill does is protect the religious freedoms that the people who began this country came here to establish.”

Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, echoed that. “This bill strengthens against discrimination acts taken by others who want to force someone to do something,” he said. “We’re strengthening the rights of citizens to believe as they see fit.”

Rep. Demion Clinco, D-Tucson, who is gay, said he believes the bill will encourage discrimination. “To justify discrimination against the LGBT community and others because of religion is an affront to all Arizonans,” he said. “That’s not the Arizona I want to live in. That’s not the Arizona that the LGBT community wants to live in.”

Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said someone’s religion should not allow him or her to discriminate. “I already took a punch in the eye after SB 1070,” she said. “The last thing I want to be known for in my state is is more discrimination. This bill does further damage to our reputation. It is bad for business.”

Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy, said the bill is an attempt to “ensure that in America people are able to live and work according to their faith.”

He said the bill has resulted in fear-mongering from opponents who have blown the legislation out of proportion.

“People need to read the bill,” he said. “We are simply clarifying that our law is in line with the federal government. We are also aligning it with where the overwhelming majority of federal courts have said federal law does protect private business owners.”

Kredit said the bill is not in response to problems in Arizona, but wider, national concerns.

“We see threats to religious liberty from the Obama administration and everywhere around the country,” he said.

Victoria Lopez, ACLU of Arizona program director, said the organization is assessing the legalities of the legislation.

“The intention of this bill is a question mark,” she said. “We’ve heard proponents say it really strengthens existing law and nothing more, but we’ve also heard proponents invoke that case out of New Mexico, which is squarely on the issue of whether private businesses can discriminate against gay and lesbian people.”

The bill has a strong chance of becoming law. It is nearly identical to one the Legislature passed last year but Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed. That is not a clear indication of what she’ll do, because according to her veto letter, her decision to reject last year’s bill was due more to a political battle over Medicaid expansion than objection to the legislation.

Brewer has a policy of not commenting on legislation before it reaches her desk.

Republic reporter JT Reid contributed to this article.


Lawmakers blow (unholy) smoke in name of religious freedom

The Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature are on a mission from God.

At least, they’re on such a mission if your notion of “god” is a powerful Arizona lobby and a bunch of arch-conservative zealots – who vote.

Lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal that in the words of Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler would prevent “discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

A lovely concept, except it wouldn’t do that.

It would do just the opposite.

The bill passed by the Senate (SB 1062) and its companion in the House (HB 2153) don’t prevent discrimination. They promote discrimination, particularly against gays.

It’s a religious freedom bill for those who attend the church of Fox News.

It was introduced and is being pushed by politicians who worship at the altar of the Center for Arizona Policy.

The center is backing the bill. On its website the center writes:

“First, the bill clarifies that the definition of ‘person’ includes all types of businesses and legal entities. Although the question of whether private business owners should be afforded First Amendment protection should be a non-issue, opponents of religious freedom continue to argue that for-profit businesses do not have consciences. They argue that businesses cannot operate according to a sincerely held religious belief and make a conscientious objection to a government mandate.”

So, in the name of religious freedom this law would transform a place of business – a building –into a ‘person’ so that the person who owns the building can discriminate against potential customers.

And this is in response to … nothing.

There is no flood of Arizonans who have had some kind of difficulty affiliated with their religious freedom.

The bill is a solution in search of a problem. And worse, as several people have said, it turns the religious protections guaranteed by the First Amendment from a shield into a sword.

Only in Arizona would lawmakers pass such an ungodly law in the name of religious freedom.

Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar released a statement after the Senate vote that reads in part, “With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves … separate and unequal under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability…While our state continues to recover from the public relations nightmare of SB 1070, the Republican supporters of this bill are willing to elicit the inevitable backlash and boycotts that will result from its passage.”

Thursday afternoon the state House debated the bill and passed it.

Although “debate” is a silly word to use when speaking about a group of people who walk into a room with their minds made up.

State Rep. Chad Campbell, a Democrat, tried to be succinct. He said, “There is no other way to frame this. The result of this bill is discrimination.”

Should the law be signed by the governor there will be a lawsuit. And somewhere along the way a judge, hopefully, will recite chapter and verse to our holier-than-thou lawmakers, informing them that someone’s proclaimed religious beliefs do not allow him to disregard someone else’s guaranteed civil rights.

But it will cost us.

It always costs us.

Not just in reputation — for being a state that continues to pass cruel and crazy laws — but in actual taxpayer dollars.

It doesn’t have to go that far, of course.

Gov. Jan Brewer can veto the bill.

As Victoria Lopez from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona told me, “State law in Arizona already protects freedom of religion. There really is no need for this.”

Not a legal need, perhaps.

Certainly not a religious need.

But what about a political need?

There was no stopping the bill’s proponents from blowing holy smoke. (Or was it unholy?)

Unless the governor stops it the law will head to the courts on a right-wing and a prayer.

For now, however, the Republicans who vote for it will satisfy the conservative moneyed interests who want it.

Because, in the end, what politicians worship most is the almighty dollar.