‘Stand Your Religious Ground’ Law Passes Arizona House

Religious bigotry is a sad thing indeed
In March the Phoenix City Council
approved a measure which expanded the city’s existing anti-discrimination law to include LGBT and disabled citizens. This affects contracts, housing, public accommodations and employment but only for the city of Phoenix proper, the rest of Arizona can continue to legally discriminate. It was a smart move on the part of the council and Mayor Greg Stanton since Phoenix, the 6th largest city in America, has been playing “catch-up” with 166 other cities who had passed similar laws.

This did not sit well with the religious and bigoted communities, as you might imagine. The Roman Catholic diocese was particularly miffed, saying that the new law could “trample on religious liberties.” Hey you! Your freedoms are touching my “liberty!”

Enter Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Sen. Steve Yarbrough to save the day for the religious bigots of Phoenix. Yay. They took an earlier bill that had been introduced (it was defeated) by Rep. John Kavanagh soon after the anti-discrimination law was passed, put lipstick on it and reintroduced it as SB 1178. To avoid the crowds of opponents who spoke out against the original bill, the two legislators introduced the new version as an amendment to an unrelated bill that had already been passed by the Senate. This allowed the bill to skip the second public hearing it would have normally undergone.

The bill states that no government entity can “burden” religious freedom and goes on to identify “burden” as anything that prevents someone from being a religious bigot. Basically, it’s a “stand your ground” law for the very religious. This seems to be a tactic that many state Republican legislators are trying to use as a way to get around anti-discrimination laws. This is happening in my own state of Washington right now.

The bill passed the Arizona House by a vote of 32-24 with every Democrat voting against and, naturally, every Republican voting for. The bill was written by a conservative group, Center for Arizona Policy. They claim that it has been deliberately misinterpreted:

“It is shocking the claims that have been made about what this bill does,” said Josh Kredit, legislative counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy. “We just want to clarify the state law.”

Well, no. What they want is to force the state to allow prejudiced people to discriminate against anyone they dislike, claiming religious grounds as their excuse. Seráh Blain, executive director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, explains:

“It’s giving business owners sort of the go-ahead to choose not to provide services for the LGBT community… My organization is particularly concerned about any kind of legislation that allows the religious beliefs of people in power to marginalize vulnerable groups of people. We are concerned about the transgender community, LGBT individuals, women, anyone who is vulnerable to discrimination.”

When you stand back and examine this bill, along with similar bills in other states, what they are proposing is unconstitutional. It is no different than the old Jim Crow laws of the South, as it allows for discrimination based on personal belief. That’s not how this country works, though. There are plenty of things I find personally distasteful – bigotry and religious fundamentalism, for example – but, if I am an employer or own a business, I am not allowed to discriminate against customers who espouse either of those. That’s as it should be. Because where would it stop? Would a doctor be allowed to refuse treatment to a transgender individual? A therapist to “prescribe” prayer or church attendance to a lesbian patient? It’s bad enough that business owners would refuse to sell flowers to a gay couple but what if a pharmacist decided not to provide insulin or other life-saving drugs to a gay patient, standing on his firmly held religious belief? Make no mistake, these kind of bills are merely a way to legalize discrimination for certain members of society. Specifically, the very religious. But if an atheist were to refuse a Catholic? I’m betting that wouldn’t be covered. No, these laws are specifically meant for religious bigots to be able to discriminate against anyone they dislike. And that is simply not the way we do things in America.

Photobucket      T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…