Should Arizona's 'Religious Freedom' Bill Become Law?

Opponents say the bill creates a 'right to discriminate.'

Arizona state government complex.

The Arizona state government complex in Phoenix.

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The Arizona legislature passed a bill that will allow people to refuse service to others based upon religious beliefs. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who vetoed a similar bill last year, has five days to decide if she will sign it or not.

The bill was introduced in the Republican-controlled legislature last month by proponents who say they want to ensure that people are not held legally liable for refusing to do something that violates their religious beliefs. House Bill 2153/Senate Bill 1062 was drafted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization.

Dubbed the “right to discriminate” bill by opponents, the legislation was passed Thursday in the Senate and Friday in the House. It would give people the power to refuse services to anyone if they say doing so goes against their religion. The legislation would include both practice and observance of religion as a part of the state’s definition of “exercise of religion.” It would also widen the umbrella of the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”

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In order to be protected under the law, people would have to prove that any services withheld in the name of the law are the result of sincere religious beliefs. This means a wedding photographer could decline to photograph a same-sex marriage if the photographer objects to the marriage on religious grounds.

“We are trying to protect people’s religious liberties,” said Arizona State Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Republican. “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.”

Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar called the bill “a disgraceful assault on members of our community.” Opponents say the bill could easily be abused and used to discriminate against people for a wide range of reasons. “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,” said Tovar. “This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”

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Similar legislation has been pursued but defeated in Idaho, Tennessee and South Dakota. The Kansas House passed a bill that would allow people to refrain from any task “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” but it has not been approved by the Senate.

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