It’s been about three years since I’ve lived in Arizona, but while I lived there, I used to contribute to the best political blog in the state – Blog for Arizona; in this capacity, I was privy to a lot of the sheer ridiculousness that the Legislature of that state passes off as “doing the people’s work”. I didn’t think much could surprise me anymore — not when they outlawed ethnic studies; or banned affirmative action; or passed SB1070; or even passed the birther bill after Arizonans were convinced then-Senator Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya.
But, I gotta tell you, SB1062 — which passed the Arizona State Senate yesterday by pretty wide margins — has thrown me for a bit of a loop.
SB1062 is an Arizona Senate bill introduced by Senator Steve Yarbrough, and matches HB 2153 which is scheduled for a House vote tomorrow, and which reportedly has good chances of passing. Disguised as a rallying cry to restore and expand”religious freedom” — something that apparently Arizona legislators feel is deeply threatened, and that the First Amendment insufficiently protects — SB1062/HB2153 does a few things:
- It redefines the “exercise of religion” to include both the “practice” and “observance” of a religion.
- It redefines a “person” to include individuals as well as churches, businesses, corporations, foundations, and estates.
- It establishes that no law, policy, rule, or regulation can be either put into place or enforced (even by non-governmental people) that would impede a “person’s” “exercise of religion”.
Wait, so what?
It means that a person or business has the right to believe anything they want to believe, and that person cannot be required to do anything that would challenge those beliefs, even if those beliefs would lead that person to violate state law.
In fact, the law adds a new provision that permits a person who feels their religious beliefs has been violated — even through an interaction not involving a member of the government — may seek redress from the government through the courts under this law.
Most have likened this bill to Kansas’ HB2453, which similarly invokes religious freedom, although in Kansas’ state it explicitly protects the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. But, at their cores, SB1062 and HB2453 are the same law.
In Arizona, critics of SB1062 have cited how this law would protect a restaurant owner from serving a gay couple while citing Leviticus. As Donna Gratehouse writes for BfAZ, this law would also likely protect pharmacists from having to provide the morning-after bill, even if another pharmacist is not available. It’s possible this law would even allow employers to fire employees based on religious beliefs. Even bill author Steve Yarbrough cites the possibility that his bill could justify an employer firing a woman based on marital status.
In fact, this law would protect virtually any discriminatory action made under the guise of a religion. Under SB1062, employers could lawfully discriminate against gay people, single women, non-Christians, farmers who plant two kinds of seed, people who shave, people wearing cotton, football players , people sporting tattooes and people who eat three-day-old beef — all while citing their religion adherence to the scripture in Leviticus.
Sound hyperbolic? Well, SB1062 has a totally fraud-proof system for figuring out whose religious freedoms are genuine. When pressed, an employer need only 1) cite religion, 2) say before a court that “yes, they really, really, really believe it” (my research shows that at least 3 reallys are necessary), and 3) tell the court they feel those totally genuine beliefs have been violated. And, done: here’s your free pass to discriminate.
So, bottom line? This bill isn’t really about religious freedom. It’s about prioritizing one group’s religion over the civil rights of others. It’s about removing the freedom to live one’s life unconstrained by the religious precepts of others.
An earlier version of this bill was vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
Yet, it’s unclear whether she will veto SB1062 if and when it arrives on her desk a second time. So yes, Arizona could soon make “Because The Bible” a legitimate free pass to discriminate against virtually anyone.