Arizona's Freedom to Discriminate Bill Opposed By Libertarians; Arpaio 'Staying Out of It'

Gov. Jan Brewer is facing an onslaught of attention as she mulls a bill that would reaffirm right to religion-inspired discrimination.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer waves to cheering supporters in the gallery of the Arizona House of Representatives on Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. The Republican governor hasn't said if she will sign into law a bill that would purportedly protect religious freedom.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer waves to cheering supporters in the gallery of the Arizona House of Representatives on Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. The Republican governor hasn't said if she will sign into law a bill that would purportedly protect religious freedom.

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As Arizona’s SB 1062 awaits either rejection or embrace by Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., a national wave of opposition has mounted – and this now includes leaders of the Arizona Libertarian Party.

Supporters of the legislature-approved bill say it would protect business owners from being forced to serve customers if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs.

Sexual orientation isn’t mentioned in the bill, but its sponsors say it is a safeguard against future federal court rulings that may expand same-sex marriage rights to Arizona.

Libertarian Party members generally support acceptance and rights for gays and lesbians, but also support freedom of individual choice and, sometimes, suggest discrimination is better punished by markets than governments.

[OPINION: Bigotry Is Bad for Business]

The Arizona Libertarian Party’s leaders seem sympathetic to both sentiments in a statement prepared by Communications Director Barry Hess and provided to U.S. News by Chairman Warren Severin, but denounce the bill as unnecessary and divisive.

“While all individuals and non-government businesses retain an absolute right to refuse to do business with anyone (including government) for any reason, proposing a law to that effect is not only redundant, but unnecessarily incites argument,” the statement says. “Worse yet, it is an invitation and encouragement for businesses to discriminate against a specific group for purely political reasons.”

The statement continues: “The 'bread and butter' for the kind of politicians who would propose such legislation is the division of the electorate. They seek only to divide us (the American People) up into groups, pit them against one another, and then offer to referee. Libertarians are of the opinion that here, in America (Arizona included), all individuals are equal under the law, without regard to the usual attempts to divide us based on spiritual beliefs, sex, sexual preferences, skin color, mental capabilities or national or ethnic origins. Our strength as a nation depends upon our common beliefs as a free People, and the protection of our inherent, God-given rights as individuals."

The owners of Arizona banks, hotels, day care centers, restaurants, grocery stores, medical or dental offices, theaters and other businesses are already allowed under state law to discriminate against gay people.

[VOTE: Should Brewer Sign the Bill?]

It’s illegal under Arizona and federal law to discriminate against people based on sex, mental or physical disability, national origin, race or religion. SB 1062 would almost certainly not override federal prohibitions on discrimination.

Supporters of the bill strenuously deny it creates a new right to discriminate and say it would merely codify existing rights. Opponents say its impact might be expansive and make the state appear to be a bastion of bigotry.

Alessandra Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told U.S. News earlier this week the law might create “a nightmare for employers and businesses throughout the state.”

Meetze said the bill would allow not only a legal defense for discrimination, but would also allow lawsuits to be brought by people alleging their right to discriminate because of their religious beliefs was infringed upon – such as people fired for ignoring corporate nondiscrimination policies.

[DISPUTE: Minor Tweak or Major Change?]

The bill, Meetze said, would likely override a handful of local nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and possibly rule out attempts to have federal courts rule in favor of sexuality-based discrimination claims.

State law requires Brewer to decide by Friday if she will assent to or veto the legislation.

Arizona’s two U.S. Senators, Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain, urged Brewer on Monday to veto the bill. Tech giant Apple, which is opening a manufacturing center in Mesa, Ariz., and the CEO of American Airlines, which merged with Phoenix-based US Airways last year, warned it might negatively impact the state’s economy.

Three of the Republican state senators who voted for the bill recanted their votes Monday and asked Brewer to veto it. In a sign of how intense the furor over the discrimination-sanctioning bill has grown, a spokesperson for often outspoken Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio tells U.S. News “it’s not a law enforcement issue so we are staying out of it for now.”