After Arizona state Senate Republicans voted 17 to 13 on Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 1062 that would allow businesses to cite "religious freedom" as an excuse to discriminate against customers, Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives voted 33 to 27 Thursday to approve the bill, which Democrats have condemned as "state-sanctioned discrimination."
Part of the bill, which has now moved to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's desk for approval, reads:
"Exercise of religion" means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
According to The Associated Press:
The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.
Only three Republicans, Reps. Ethan Orr, Heather Carter and Kate Brophy McGee, opposed the bill.
"I disagree with the bill. I think it's a bad bill,” Orr said.
Arizona Democrats pointed out that the legislation is targeted at the LGBT community. State Democratic Minority Leader Anna Tovar said in a statement Wednesday:
SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class 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.
"This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” Arizona Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R), one of the three lawmakers sponsoring the bill, said, according to The Huffington Post. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."
However, Arizona Sen. Steve Farley (D) argued that if passed into law, it could impact negatively on the state’s economy by suggesting that certain type of people are not welcome in Arizona.
Arizona’s religious freedom bill is only one of several that have emerged recently in conservative states in reaction to courts overruling state bans on same-sex marriage.
Similar bills were defeated in Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee, according to The Huffington Post.
Yarbrough's claim that the bill is a "First Amendment issue" and that "It is not about allowing discrimination" but "preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith" is cynical.
Despite Republican Rep. Steve Montenegro's insincere comment that, "I love you because you are a child of God. But please don't ask me to go against my religious beliefs," the notorious tendency of religious people to conflate issues of their own religious freedom with the freedom of others is well documented — and that is the attitude reflected in this exceptionally retrogressive bill.
Democrats and LGBT people against whom the bill is targeted are not deceived. Rep. Chad Campbell, the Democratic minority leader, said, "This bill is about going after the rights of the LGBT community in Arizona."
How a bill that states that "the practice or observance of religion" includes the "ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief" could be used in violation of the civil liberties of others is obvious, except of course to those who want to use their religious prejudices as an excuse to violate the rights of others.
Going by the rights of "practice or observance of religion" granted by the bill, religious liberty could have been cited as legitimate grounds for perpetuating slavery and later the Jim Crow laws.
In the era of slavery, Southern Christians cited Gen 9: 24-25 to justify slavery:
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son (Ham) had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be unto his brethren.
The same Christians justified racial segregation on "biblical" grounds and stuck to their position until the federal government instituted changes that outlawed the segregation laws.
As Scott Billingsley notes in a review of Mark Newman's "Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995," Southern Baptists generally supported segregation and only "reluctantly accepted the new social order out of a fear of chaos and disorder — not out of a sense of social justice."
Recent US history provides sufficient warning that religious beliefs cannot be relied upon to guide public morality and ethics because, in spite of their vainglorious "holier-than-thou" pomposity, religious people tend to lag behind rather than set the tone of society's moral and ethical standards.
Most Americans today would agree — or at least pretend to agree for the sake of political correctness — that repealing the Jim Crow laws was the right thing to do, in spite of anybody's appeal to right of "practice or observance of religion."
Yet we find the Arizona's lawmakers taking a big step backward by granting religious people the right to discriminate as their bigoted religious worldviews recommend.
The demarcating lines between an individual's right to practice his faith and the civil liberties of others are not as blurred as Arizona Republican legislators pretend.