Religious Freedom Uproar in Arizona

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Religious Freedom Uproar in Arizona

By Joseph Backholm

Family Policy Institute of Washington

A bill to protect conscience rights and religious freedom (SB 1062) is causing an uproar in Arizona in ways that have become sadly predictable.

It is now reasonable to think of the left’s opposition of religious freedom as a genuine phobia. They react instinctively long before they bother to think.

The bill, which has already passed the Arizona legislature and is now on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk, is being labeled as “Jim Crow for gays” or the “right to discriminate” bill by the gay lobby. Most media outlets are carrying that message for them.


Because when the gay lobby is involved, critical thought is not allowed. It’s offensive.

The bill, which has the National Football League threatening to move next year’s Super Bowl out of Arizona unless it is vetoed, is actually a fairly minor revision of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) already on the books.

RFRA states that if the government is going to take away someone’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, they have to have a compelling governmental interest in doing so and use the least restrictive means.

It is the highest standard of protection the constitution gives to fundamental rights.

The bill being protested doesn’t create the standard nor does it change it.

Instead, the bill says three things:

1) The legal protections offered by RFRA apply to associations and businesses as well as individuals. This was always the intent of RFRA, but the New Mexico Supreme Court, in upholding a $6,600 fine against a photographer who didn’t want to take pictures of a same-sex wedding, recently said that RFRA protections did not apply to a business.

2) The law protects your right to religious expression in the same way whether you’re being sued by an individual or by the government.

3) To claim religious freedom protections, you have to show an actual, sincere religious belief. You can’t invent the religion of drinking and driving in an attempt to get yourself out of trouble.

Scared yet?

Opponents of the bill say they’re concerned that this is essentially “Jim Crow for gays” because they think it would allow a photographer or florist the freedom not to be part of a same-sex wedding if that is their preference.

But here’s the problem.

In Arizona, it isn’t illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. True story. Some states prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but Arizona doesn’t.

So now we’re really horrified.

Surely every gay person in Arizona has been relegated to subsistence living. After all, without laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the hordes of homophobic businesses owners must have fired all the gay people and refused to sell them Panini’s, right?

Actually that isn’t the case. I have been unable to find a single instance of a business refusing to do business with gay people because they’re gay.

In fact, since RFRA was passed in 1993 and adopted by many states, not a single person has used RFRA to defend racist business practices or discrimination against gay people in court.

In states like New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, where photographers, bakeries, and florists are in litigation because they don’t want to be part of a same-sex wedding, the businesses are happy to do business with gay people, (some even employed gay people) just not events like same-sex weddings.

Would a gay photographer be forced to do a wedding for the Westboro Baptists?

Rather than celebrate the fact that people are not using religious freedom as an excuse to be jerks, they want to take away religious freedom as a kind of pre-emptive strike against someone who might.

And people are cooperating. In the process, one of the most powerful political lobbies in America has convinced themselves and others that they are powerless.

Vladamir Putin thinks he’s Rosa Parks.

Those protesting this bill are likely concerned more with the underlying RFRA law than the relatively minor changes to it represented in this bill.

Arizona’s RFRA is modeled after a federal law by the same name that was passed by Congress in 1993. Seventeen states, in addition to Arizona, have also adopted state RFRA’s.

John McCain, the U.S. Senator from Arizona who recently called on Gov. Brewer to veto this bill, was actually one of 97 Senators and 425 Representatives who voted for the "Jim Crow" law they’re all scared of. Maybe he forgot. Or maybe he’s trying to pay for his sins.

But he wasn’t the only one.

So did Paul Wellstone, Diane Feinstein, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and many, many more. President Bill Clinton signed it into law. Sadly, we are forced to conclude that they are all homophobes. After all, the only reason one would support religious freedom is hatred of gay people, right?

Only twenty years ago, these proud leftists joined with the conservatives to pass RFRA almost unanimously.

How quickly things have changed.

In 1993, the left cared about individual rights. That’s what made them “liberals”. They didn’t think the government should be able to tell individuals not to do things simply because they didn’t personally agree with their choices.

Those were the good old days of live and let live.

The left has exchanged their commitment to individual rights for a commitment to "tolerance". They want to create a world in which no one does anything “offensive”, displays “bias” or engages in “discrimination.”

In the old world, individual rights were the solution. In the new world, individual rights are the problem.

After all, strong individual rights would give people the right to discriminate, which we simply can’t tolerate...because we want tolerance.

Of course that doesn’t make sense, but they have good intentions so it doesn’t matter.

As a result, a movement has been born that instinctively opposes anything that would give people the freedom to make choices they don’t like.

Don’t like abortion? Don’t get one. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one.

Those were the good old days.

Don’t want to be part of a same-sex wedding? Do it anyway.

Otherwise I’ll sue you and/or harass you until I’ve closed down your business and destroyed your ability to make a living.

We call it progress. After all, allowing you the freedom to make choices we disagree with would be mean.

Update (2/26 at 5:02 pm): Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill that would have provided additional protection for religious freedom.

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TAGS: Arizona religious freedom Jim Crow Religious Freedom Restoration Act Super Bowl same-sex wedding Vladamir Putin John McCain

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