Religious bigotry rears its ugly head in the Arizona Legislature

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Earlier this month I told you about the bill by Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) to make it illegal for government to “require a minister to solemnize a marriage inconsistent with a minister's sincerely held religious beliefs.” A solution in search of a non-existent problem. As I said at the time:

I commend Rep. Montenegro for trying to keep his measure as narrow as possible. The New Mexico wedding photographer case he cites is an example of an individual claiming an overly broad definition of "religious liberty" to essentially assert a license to discriminate against members of the public.Whitye-only This is a slippery slope which can easily be abused to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, sex and religion simply by invoking the "magic words" that it is "my sincerely held religious beliefs." If this wedding photographer had refused services to African-Americans or Jews, or to Arab-Americans and Muslims instead of "the gays," he would have been rightly condemned as a bigot. A "get out of jail free card" for compliance with laws based upon the mere assertion of "sincerely held religious beliefs" leads to anarchy.

Rep. Montenegro's restraint is not shared by Arizona's most corrupt state senator, Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), who uses his position to write charter school bills to steer state funding to his Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization to benefit himself financially. It's like writing checks to yourself. Unbelievably, this allegedly does not violate Arizona's ethics rules for legislators. (See Steve Murtarore at the Arizona Eagletarian for the latest self-dealing by Sen. Yarbrough, regarding a KPHO Channel 5 investigation by Morgan Loew. Is Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough's approach the only thing corrupt in the Arizona Legislature? and Will you tolerate Steve Yarbrough's brazen self-service?)

Sen. Yarbrough is proposing a bill to allow for discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex and religion in public accommodations simply by invoking the "magic words" that it is "my sincerely held religious beliefs," just as I warned. He is proposing a "get out of jail free card" for compliance with civil rights laws based upon the mere assertion of "sincerely held religious beliefs." Howie Fischer reports, Religious belief would permit discrimination under proposed bill:

A state state lawmaker is pushing legislation that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays — and maybe even women and Jews — as long as they were acting on sincerely held religious beliefs.

SB 1062 (.pdf) would allow those sued in civil cases to claim that they have a legal right to decide not to provide their services to any individual or group because it would “substantially burden” their freedom of religion. And that specifically means doing something that the person feels is contrary to their religious teachings.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said the measure is aimed specifically at preventing what happened in New Mexico where courts there said a gay couple could sue a wedding photographer who turned away their request to take pictures at their nuptials. He said that should not be allowed to happen here.

But Yarbrough said his legislation could also be interpreted broader than that, allowing motel operators with vacant rooms to refuse to rent to gays.

Potentially more significant, Yarbrough acknowledged there may be individuals whose have religious beliefs about unmarried women, or even employing people who do not share their same beliefs.

This is a "get out of jail free card" for compliance with the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Arizona Civil Rights Act, as amended. Since religion is defined under his bill as an individual's "sincerely held religious beliefs" rather than that of a religious institution — and the government cannot discriminate among religious beliefs under the First Amendment — an individual's "sincerely held religious beliefs" that he or she may discriminate against persons of other religious faiths, or another race, ethnic origin, or sex would be permissible. Such a "get out of jail free card" for compliance with laws based upon the mere assertion of "sincerely held religious beliefs" leads to anarchy.

Sen. Yarbrough said he believes it would be hard for someone accused of such discrimination to hide behind his law. The point is that this should not occur at all.

Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he’s not so sure, which is why his group generally opposes any kinds of laws which protect what he called “indirect burdens” on an individual’s religion.

“They generally result from persons claiming that their religious beliefs entitle them to disregard civil rights laws that protect against various discrimination including on the basis of religion, gender, marital status, national origin and sexual orientation,” Pochoda said. And he said it permits those who claim such protections to “act in a manner that threatens the health, safety, well-being and liberties of others.”

The chances of the measure gaining approval are quite good.

In fact, a virtually identical proposal actually was approved last year only to be vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. But she did that not because of the text of the legislation but because she was ticked at lawmakers for refusing to consider the state budget and her Medicaid expansion plan.

Central to Yarbrough's bill is a defense in civil actions to the general prohibition against discrimination in public accommodations under the Civil Rights Acts.

Yarbrough, who unbelievably is somehow an attorney, said this can extend beyond restaurants and hotels to any other business that offers its services to the public.

Whites-onlyYarbrough said it’s possible that, under the terms of his legislation a hotel owner could turn away a gay couple without fear of suit simply because there are other nearby facilities.

“It’s a fact-intensive question in those instances when you’ve got the preference that we’ve got for public accommodation and the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion,” he said. “How does the friction play out?”

Conversely, Yarbrough said the answer might be different if that were the only hotel in town.

And what about the slippery slope, senator? Are you going to single out just gays, a clear violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment? Or will your bill permit religious bigots to discriminate equally against members of other religious faiths, races, national origin, or sex?

This is the 21st Century, do we really want to return to the dark ages of American Apartheid by giving religious bigots such as Sen. Yarbrough a "get out of jail free card" for compliance with laws based upon the mere assertion of "sincerely held religious beliefs"?

What the hell is wrong with these people?

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3 responses to “Religious bigotry rears its ugly head in the Arizona Legislature

  1. The most poignant aspect of SB1062 is that it sanctions religious bigotry in the Arizona statutes on CIVIL RIGHTS.

  2. Your religious beliefs are between you and your Creator. They do not belong in our laws. You have no right to impose your religious standards on the behavior of others. You and your Creator can work things out between you, but not for me.

  3. Frances Perkins

    You can blame organizations like Hobby Lobby, and the non religious service portion of the Catholic Church organizations for blowing their horns on a deformed version of “religious freedom”. But this argument can and will be used to justify just about any form of discrimination. And you can guarantee that Taliban Herrod will be up to her neck in this pile of dung soon enough. You think of all the issues this State needs addressing and this legislature constantly gets itself in a ball over nonsense. How about a coherent election finance reform package of immediate and clear disclosure and absolute bans on gifts and “scholarships”.