Home / News / Theocracy in action: Arizona House passes bill allowing for the ability to pre-emptively sue over violations of religious liberty
Theocracy in action: Arizona House passes bill allowing for the ability to pre-emptively sue over violations of religious liberty

Theocracy in action: Arizona House passes bill allowing for the ability to pre-emptively sue over violations of religious liberty

The Arizona GOP led House has passed a theocratic bill that allows people to sue over potential violations of religious liberty at a time when the national GOP is actively backing away from theocratic public policy–in other words, in Arizona, Senate Bill 1178 would make it more difficult, as an example, to legally contest prayer events hosted by government officials as a violation of separation of church and state without getting sued in return for trying to contest it. It also claims to protect pastors from lawsuits who do not wish to marry same sex couples.  Specifically, the bill says that no government entity can "burden" religious freedom. The text of the bill , authored by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, is as follows:

1. "BURDEN" MEANS ANY ACTION THAT DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY CONSTRAINS, INHIBITS, CURTAILS OR DENIES THE EXERCISE OF RELIGION BY ANY PERSON OR COMPELS ANY ACTION CONTRARY TO A PERSON’S EXERCISE OF RELIGION, AND INCLUDES WITHHOLDING BENEFITS, ASSESSING CRIMINAL, CIVIL OR ADMINISTRATIVE PENALTIES OR EXCLUSION FROM GOVERNMENTAL PROGRAMS OR ACCESS TO GOVERNMENTAL FACILITIES.
2. "COMPELLING GOVERNMENTAL INTEREST" MEANS A GOVERNMENTAL INTEREST OF THE HIGHEST MAGNITUDE THAT SHALL NOT OTHERWISE BE ACHIEVED WITHOUT BURDENING THE EXERCISE OF RELIGION.
3. "STATE ACTION" MEANS THE IMPLEMENTATION OR APPLICATION OF ANY LAW, INCLUDING STATE AND LOCAL LAWS, ORDINANCES, RULES, REGULATIONS AND POLICIES, WHETHER STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE, OR OTHER ACTION BY THE GOVERNMENT."

The national GOP in March wrote a 98 page report detailing how the party could rebuild after losing the 2012 election; a report that not only disturbed conservative fundamentalist evangelicals, but also did not mention the word "Christian," once. Buzzfeed adds:

Specifically, the word “Christian” does not appear once in the party’s 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word “church.” Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found. There is nothing about the need to protect religious liberty, or promote Judeo-Christian values in society. And the few fleeting suggestions that the party coordinate with “faith-based communities” — mostly in the context of minority outreach — receive roughly as much space as the need to become more “inclusive” of gays.

To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.

“The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. “You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.”

Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a “namby-pamby” abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.

“They should be deeply concerned they’re going to be alienating their base,” Rios said, adding, “It seems to me that the leadership of the party is intent on that course. Most Christian conservatives are not going to be party loyalists over principle, and so the GOP has a lot more to lose than Christians.”

However, in Arizona, despite what the national party may be thinking in terms of widening their appeal to voters, the theocratic social agenda is still something they are actively pursuing.  The Arizona Capital Times reports:

The proposed law would allow people to sue over an “impending violation” of religious liberty, as opposed to waiting until after the attack has occurred. It protects the practice or observance of all religions, including actions motivated by religious beliefs, against state and local laws or policies.

Civil liberties groups have rallied against the bill, saying it would be a nightmare for businesses because it doesn’t specify what constitutes a potential violation of religious liberty.

Arizona law and the U.S. Constitution already protect the free exercise of religion, but proponents say stricter language is needed. For example, they claim the bill will expand protections for prayer events hosted by government officials, as well as for religious leaders who don’t recognize gay couples.

The bill passed 32-24 in the Arizona House. Opponents of the bill say that the bill is too broadly worded, and could have dangerous implications for providing a legal defense for those who ignore state law or city ordinances meant to protect groups such as same-sex couples and transgender individuals from discrimination. However, conservatives do not agree:

“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.”

Kredit said the bill is aimed at preventing problems like those encountered by a New Mexico photographer who was found guilty of violating that state’s anti-discrimination law after refusing to take photos of a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony.

With SB 1178, he said, an Arizona photographer in such a situation would have a legal defense if same-sex marriages or civil unions were ever allowed in the state. He said several states are adjusting their religious-protection laws based on this concern.

In a House debate, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, used a similar example of a pastor who may refuse to marry a same-sex couple. “If we decide we have a state that decides you can have same-sex couple marriages and somebody decides not to do it and they get sued, that’s what this can protect against,” Farnsworth said.

 

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Corey

    Can I sue preventively for the homophobia I will recieve from religious groups, organizations, corporations (seeing as they are people), doctors, writers, etc,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1628508997 Jennifer Shaw Hancock

    uhhhhh – isn't spectral evidence illegal? – lordy these people are wierd.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002370800744 Deborah Beeksma

    It's a bizarre cluster of people who don't represent the values of most of us who live here. This is disturbing, at best.

  • Radical MD

    Why would someone force a religious figure to do something they don't want to do? If a "pastor" does not want to marry someone, who cares? The lucky couple can surely find someone with authority to do so. I don't care if the couple is black , white, LGBT, Jew, Islamic etc. What is the big deal. We don't want to force someone to agree with us, just not act against us. You cannot change people's minds just by forcing them to act in a certain way.

    • Marian L Shatto

      This whole argument is a red herring. Clergy have always had the right to refuse to marry a couple. Those who don't believe in divorce do it all the time. If clergy did not serve as agents of the state, the whole issue would be resolved. State officials would be responsible for registering the civil marriage. Clergy would take care of the religious rite, which would have no bearing on the couple's legal status.

      Providers of a public service are in a different category. If there are local or state anti-discrimination laws in effect, a business owner who refuses to serve a customer based on a protected category could be in trouble.

  • Jellybean

    Sounds to me like the religions, including Christianity, can kill idolators and get away with it, because their religion says that in their holy book.

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