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.