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Arizona Governor Vetoes Religious Freedom Bill

by Bob Christie
Wednesday Feb 26, 2014
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 Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer  (Source:AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a Republican bill that set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.

Her decision defused a national furor over gay rights and religious freedom.

"My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona," Brewer said at a news conference. "I call them like I seem them despite the tears or the boos from the crowd."

The governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the debate.

The bill backed by Republicans in the Legislature was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.

The bill thrust Arizona into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill, calling it an attack on gay and lesbian rights.

Prominent Phoenix business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if bill became law.

Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation.

Brewer was under intense pressure to veto the bill, including from three Republicans who had voted for the bill last week. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote "was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance."

SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cite a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn’t exist in Arizona.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during a Senate debate.

"This bill is not about allowing discrimination," Yarbrough said. "This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."

Democrats said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people and could allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

"The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians," said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is."

The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by Brewer, a Republican. That legislation also would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on their religious rights. Yarbrough stripped that provision from the bill in the hopes Brewer will embrace the new version.

Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful social conservative group that backs anti-abortion and conservative Christian legislation in the state and is opposed to gay marriage, had sought to minimize concerns that last year’s bill had far-reaching and hidden implications.

Yarbrough called those worries "unrealistic and unsupported hypotheticals" and said criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the courts.

The Center for Arizona Policy argues the law is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law. "We see a growing hostility toward religion," said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group.

Similar religious-protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has been passed by a state legislature. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.

The push in Arizona comes as an increasing number of conservative states grapple with ways to counter the growing legality of gay marriage. Arizona’s voters approved a ban on gay marriage as a state constitutional amendment in 2008. It is one of 29 states with such constitutional prohibitions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Federal judges have recently struck down those bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Comments

  • Arthur Cohen, 2014-02-26 20:45:31

    It’s good news, if no surprise. Brewer doesn’t get any kudos for this, she’s no hero; she really had no choice, and she knew it. Business interests would have pummelled her for the loss of business had it passed. Arizona would have become more of a pariah state, also affecting $$$. And her legal team surely would have warned her that it wouldn’t have passed even this rabidly conservative Supreme Court.


  • James Borrazas, 2014-02-26 22:38:45

    The business owners who wanted the State’s protection if they chose to refuse to serve gay customers have time to reflect now. They can look, for example, at how well they treat their employees with a living wage, good health insurance, adequate paid vacations, etc. If they really live up to their Christian ideals in all these ways, I would congratulate and admire them. If their consciences are perfectly clear that they have never wronged anyone, however, I would be surprised, because we know that we are all sinners. Then I am reminded of St. John’s gospel, and the woman who was caught in the act of committing adultery. When the priests asked Jesus about applying the penalty of death by stoning for adultery prescribed in the Law of Moses, Jesus is at first silent, but then answers, "Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone." When he looks up again, they have all left, "being convicted by their own conscience." Jesus the tells the woman, "Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace, and do not sin again." This is Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the only human who ever lived without committing sin. What a great example for real Christians to follow!End of meditation. Do we all feel better now that we love one another?


  • Daniel Cooley, 2014-02-27 18:46:49

    As with The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart said the bill was morally repugnant but the reasons cited by Brewer and ALL legislators in Arizona was that the bill would adversely affect Arizona economically (no Super Bowl in 2015). This implies, of course, that Brewer and the legislature have no quarrels with the bill itself (after all, they voted for it) which allows unlimited discrimination since there is no objective test for "deeply-held" religious beliefs. This is the same as that state’s bill that allows police to detain somebody if they suspect they are illegal; there is no legal check on a policeman’s sincerity as to his thinking in believing someone is "suspicious". Thank the rat Joe Arpaio for that.


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