Religious Bigotry Bills Advance in House

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The Arizona Daily Star's creative headline writer strikes again today. The headline in the Star reads Bill enhancing religious defense advances in Arizona Legislature. That's some spin there. These bills are about giving religious bigots a "get out of jail free" card to discriminate against anyone with whom they disagree supposedly based upon their "sincerely held religious beliefs" — the new code word for "haters gotta hate."

I do believe that Howard Fischer intended the factually correct headline which appears in the East Valley Tribune. Bill to allow businesses to bar service based on 'sincerely held' religious belief moves forward in House. It's time for the Daily Star to reprimand or to fire the biased copy editor responsible for these politically biased creative headlines. Howard Fischer reports:

[A] House panel voted 5-2 Tuesday to give individuals and the businesses they own more rights to refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs.

The vote by the Government Committee came despite comments from several individuals that the measure would allow anyone to claim a “sincerely held” religious belief as an defense in discrimination lawsuits.

“This bill allows anyone who should normally comply with state or local laws that are neutral to claim that those laws burden their religious beliefs,” said Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix.

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, sponsor of HB 2153, said it protects business owners from being forced to do anything that would violate their faith, and Farnsworth lashed out at foes of the legislation for being intolerant of the religious views of others.

“This is pretty remarkable and ironic the screaming and yelling about tolerance apparently flows only one way,” he said. “They want the (religious) tolerance simply to be I'm going to tolerate their opinion and my opinion counts for nothing.”

Yes, people should tolerate "Fast Eddie's" religious bigotry, because "haters gotta hate."

"Fast Eddie" would have you believe that this is just about "hatin' on the gays," but as several witnesses testified yesterday, the wording of this bill is vague and ambiguous enough to allow for any individual, or religious sect, no matter how fringe or extreme, to be treated equally in their religious beliefs as the major religious denominations. Think Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church kinda fringe and extreme.

So those fringe extremist individuals or religious sects who hate Jews, or Muslims, or people of color or other nationalities, or sexually active or pregnant single women "fornicators" supposedly based upon their "sincerely held religious beliefs" would have a legal defense to any action for violating the public accomodations provisions of the Arizona Civil Rights Act and federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which ironically protect against discrimination based upon religion).

And there was this point by "Fast Eddie" summed up by "So what's the big deal?"

Nothing in this legislation will take away the rights of gays. That, however, is [only] because, unlike other states, they have no special protections under Arizona law, and that means there is no basis to sue an individual or business owner on claims of discrimination.

This is a critical distinction. The New Mexico wedding photographer who refused business to a gay couple for wedding photos based upon a claim of his religious beliefs which has the religious bigots all up in arms is because the state of New Mexico, unlike Arizona, protects gays and lesbians as a protected class under its state civil rights act.

The Arizona legislature has regularly refused to amend the state civil rights act to extend employment non-discrimination and non-discrimination in public accommodations and public housing to gays and lesbians since 1996. Since there is no cause of action under either the state or federal civil rights acts for gays as a protected class, this bill is a proactive right to discrimination.

Of course, "Fast Eddie's" point ignores the fact that the wording of this bill is vague and ambiguous enough to allow for fringe extremist individuals or religious sects who hate Jews, or Muslims, or people of color or other nationalities, or women supposedly based upon their "sincerely held religious beliefs" to have a legal defense to any action for violating the public accomodations provisions of the Arizona Civil Rights Act and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 — these ARE protected classes under the civil rights acts. Doh!

Now, if "Fast Eddie" would like to amend his bill to expressly single out gays, lesbians and transgenders for this religious bigotry defense, please, be my guest. I will be happy to file a lawsuit under the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. A federal court will enjoin it immediately. It will never go into effect.

The whining by Tea-Publicans at yesterday's committee hearing about federal judges trampling upon their "states' rights!" under the 10th Amendment was a recurring theme. They are either willfully ignorant or disdainful of the 14th Amendment.

Another argument raised by Joseph LaRue, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (more about them later), would dramatically expand the concept of civil liberties under the Constitution. The Bill of Rights protects the civil liberties of citizens from encroachment by government action. It does not apply between individuals. But LaRue argues that the defense provided under this bill will apply to any "state action" whether or not a governmental entity is a party.  When a private party uses a government law — in this case the Arizona Civil Rights Act public accommodations provisions — to "burden" the religious beliefs of an individual, then it circumvents their religious liberty.

This same nonsensical argument could be made about almost any government statute or regulation. This strikes me as a religious exemption from complying with any law to which the individual is opposed supposedly based upon their "sincerely held religious beliefs." We do not live in a theocratic state yet, Mr. LaRue.

The other entirely unnecessary bill heard in the Government Committee yesterday was Rep. Steve Montenegro's HB 2481, providing that ministers (or other religious leaders who are authorized to conduct marriage ceremonies) cannot be required to solemnize same-sex marriages that are "inconsistent with the sincerely held religious belief, doctrine, or tenet of the church."

In a separate action, the same panel voted Tuesday to spell out in state law that a minister need not facilitate or solemnize a marriage “that is inconsistent with the minister's sincerely held religious belief.”

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, acknowledged he knows of no effort to force a minister, rabbi, priest or other religious leader to preside over a gay wedding. He said, though, HB 2481 is a preemptive measure against the possibility that a federal court may eventually overrule Arizona's constitutional provision which limits marriage to one man and one woman.

But Tracey Stewart of the Anti-Defamation League said the wording of the measure would allow others permitted to perform marriages to also turn away couples, even judges and justices of the peace in public offices.

Ms. Stewart is correct. The bill says that "minister" means an individual who is authorized to solemnize a marriage pursuant to A.R.S. Section 25-124, which includes:

A. The following are authorized to solemnize marriages between persons who are authorized to marry:

1. Duly licensed or ordained clergymen.

2. Judges of courts of record.

3. Municipal court judges.

4. Justices of the peace.

5. Justices of the United States supreme court.

6. Judges of courts of appeals, district courts and courts that are created by an act of Congress if the judges are entitled to hold office during good behavior.

7. Bankruptcy court and tax court judges.

8. United States magistrate judges.

9. Judges of the Arizona court of military appeals.

B. For the purposes of this section, "licensed or ordained clergymen" includes ministers, elders or other persons who by the customs, rules and regulations of a religious society or sect are authorized or permitted to solemnize marriages or to officiate at marriage ceremonies.

This bill goes well beyond providing that clerical ministers of religious organizations do not have to solemnize marriages "inconsistent with the sincerely held religious belief, doctrine, or tenet of the church." This bill invites mischief from the judiciary — most state court justices and judges are elected — by allowing a judicial officer to refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage in a civll ceremony. I have no doubt that there are elected judicial officers who would abuse this law to make a political statement.

Arizona voters expressly rejected the "Protect Marriage Arizona" ballot measure, Prop. 107 (2006), which would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman and prohibiting the creation of a legal status similar to marriage for unmarried persons. When the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state bans on same-sex marriages as violative of the 14th Amendment in the not too distant future, civil ceremonies performed by the judiciary must be available to same-sex couples.

No clerical ministers of religious organizations can ever be compelled to solemnize a marriage under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, and none have in the 17 states which now recognize same-sex marriages. But this religious exemption should not extend to judicial officers who are civil servants, and to civil ceremonies solemnizing marriages.

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