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Topics In the News
Arizona Passes "Religious Liberty" Bill
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/21/14
Last updated on: 02/21/14
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On February 20, 2014, the Arizona legislature passed a "religious liberty" bill that permits businesses and individuals to discriminate against gay people and others as a matter of religious belief. The bill, which is now in the hands of Governor Jan Brewer to sign into law or to veto, is part of a concerted push by conservative Christians to present themselves as victims of the "gay rights agenda." Designed to gut the human rights acts and statutes that protect glbtq people from discrimination, bills such as this confirm the naked animus against gay people by conservative Christians and acknowledge that they have lost the struggle against marriage equality. These bills almost certainly cannot withstand judicial scrutiny. Of course, when they are declared unconstitutional by courts, their backers will again get an opportunity to whine about how they are the real victims in the culture wars they prosecute.

As Howard Fischer reports in the Arizona Daily Star, the state House gave final approval on Thursday to legislation that authorizes a "sincerely held" religious belief as a legal defense against charges of discrimination. The bill had previously been approved by the Senate.

Similar bills have been debated recently in Kansas, Maine, South Dakota, and Idaho. The Kansas bill was passed in the state House, but has stalled in the Senate. The Maine legislature handily defeated the bill introduced there. The South Dakota and Idaho bills died in committees. A bill introduced in Tennessee was withdrawn after it was pointed out that gay people in Tennessee have no protections against discrimination in the first place.

These bills are attempts to give "special rights" to religious people, especially Christians. However, they are so broadly written that they could conceivably boomerang against them and create great discord among religious people, as when mosques might claim the right to disobey noise level regulations or one sect of Christianity might refuse service to members of a rival sect because of their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The laws, which are clearly motivated by a desire to prevent gay people from exercising equal rights, are prima facie evidence of animus against glbtq citizens. They are therefore unconstitutional.

The fact that conservative Christians believe such bills are necessary also amounts to an acknowledgment that they have lost their struggle against marriage equality. Indeed, the legislators who back these laws present them as part of a "preemptive strategy" to prevent bakers and others from having to "participate" in the celebration of same-sex weddings.

Precisely because they know that they have lost the culture wars, conservative Christians now cloak themselves in a pervasive rhetoric of victimology. They see themselves as victims--victims of "political correctness," victims of unfair media characterizations, victims of a changing society in which they are increasingly seen as bigots and haters and in which they are increasingly irrelevant.

Governor Brewer has five days in which to either sign the bill into law or veto it. While Brewer has hardly been a supporter of gay rights, and is likely to sign the bill, she will come under intense pressure from the Arizona business community to veto it.

The editorial board of the state's largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, has urged her to do just that.

The editorial describes Brewer's pen as "a powerful economic-development tool" that if used to veto the bill could help realize her hope that Arizona become "the best state in the country for high-tech companies to do business."

The editorial points out that the bill is designed to target gay citizens and that it "elevates the religious beliefs of some above the civil rights of others," but it is most concerned that the legislation will "severely damage Arizona's brand. It is the antithesis of the openness and diversity prized by the high-tech industry."

The Kansas version of the bill was the broadest of all of the bills recently debated in that it also permitted government officials, including first responders, to refuse service to gay people. That bill prompted Cenk Uyger to denounce these laws as segregationist in the video below.

Jon Stewart also took on the "religious liberty" bills on the Daily Show.

In the video below, Arizona state Senator Chad Campbell appears on CNN to discuss the "religious liberty" bill.

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