Arizona and the Religious Freedom Bill

arizonaArizona’s bill, SB 1062, once awaiting signature by Governor Jan Brewer and touted as “freedom of religion” by supporters, and a right to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community by detractors, has been vetoed. It had caused such a furor that the decision of whether or not Super Bowl XLIX would be held in Arizona next year depended on whether or not the bill got signed into law. It was certainly not the first time the NFL pulled out of Arizona over a civil rights issue.

At a time when athletes, such as linebacker Michael Sam, are being accepted regardless of their sexual orientation, if SB 1062 had been signed into law, few doubted that the NFL would have found another state to host the Super Bowl, slated for February of next year. In fact, before the veto, the NFL came just short of outright stating that intention, which would be a catastrophic hit on Arizona’s economy with potential lost revenues that could soar well into the millions.

About the SB 1062 itself, what was really going on here? The simplest explanation of the bill stated that Arizona business owners would have the right to refuse service to anyone, based on the business owner’s religious beliefs. That alone should have had sane people going “Huh!?” There is no denying there is a lot of contention going on around the world as well as in the United States about a person’s right to same-sex relationships. Russia is enacting anti-gay laws, and Africa is following suit. Yet everywhere else, such laws and the authors of those laws are catching heavy flak from the general populace. After all, that is a pretty huge nail to put into the coffin of oppression.

What was SB 1062’s true purpose? What kind of danger does giving service to people not of the business owner’s religion pose? A closer look at the language of the bill opens the door to all kinds of discrimination under the umbrella of “religious belief,” and that is just putting aside the fact that the bill itself was fundamentally unconstitutional. Christian business owners could refuse service to Muslims, Buddhists and just about any other customer they believe are not orthodox Christian. Beyond the tell-tale signs of, perhaps, style of dress, how would said business owner even know what religious persuasion their customer was? Would they ask the customer? If one did that, it would not be too long before they went out of business.

By the same token, Christianity (and actually, most religions) frown upon any sexual or intimate relationships other than between a man and a woman. Those signs, for the most part, will be apparent to a business owner, such as couples of the same sex holding hands or displaying other signs of affection in public. Right away, according to SB 1062, a business owner could refuse service on the spot on the grounds that sexual orientation is in violation of the owner’s religious beliefs.

Have we as a society really regressed so far that such a bill was even thought of, let alone put into consideration to be signed into law? One thing that will be virtually assured given Arizona’s SB 1062, the “freedom of religion” bill: if it had been signed into law, Arizona business owners would have soon gone out of business based on word of mouth alone. Thankfully the NFL enticed Governor Brewer to veto the bill, not that she should have needed to be pressured at all.

Editorial by Lee Birdine

USA Today