It is beyond dispute that throughout world history most of the atrocities on the human race were committed in the name of religion whether it was the Holocaust, Crusades, Inquisition, witch hunts, or near extermination of aboriginal people by Christian imperialists. Conservatives and their Republican facilitators attack women’s rights and persecute the gay community in the name of religion and claim they are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom to exercise religion as they see fit. The judicial system is being inundated with cases of anti-gay discrimination and attempts to control women under the guise of religious freedom, and if Arizona Republicans are successful a new bill will give any Arizonan the right to break any law with impunity if it is in the name of religion.
The piece of legislation that passed out of the Arizona state senate committee this week, S.B. 1062, allows discrimination against gays for any reason if it is founded on a religious belief. The bill is sponsored by Republican Steve Yarborough, who attempted to legalize discrimination last year, and it was described then by The New Civil Rights Movement as the religious “stand your ground” law, but it is much worse than religious license to discriminate. In Yarborough’s bill, the definition of “exercise of religion means PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.” It is precisely the argument Hobby Lobby is using to refuse birth control coverage for women and Utah is using to deny same-sex couples equal protection under the law to marry the person they love.
On its face, SB 1062 appears to give Arizona residents and businesses legal cover to refuse service to anyone for any reason, but it is far-reaching in its scope including extending First Amendment religious protections by “expanding the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” The bill eliminates the Constitution’s equal rights protections and is a “get of jail” free card for anyone who does anything in the name of religion. It will not end with protecting Christians who discriminate against the LGBT community, or shielding Christian employers who withhold contraception coverage in health plans.
Yarborough’s legislation is the ultimate “conscience clause” because it gives any individual, church, business, medical professional, trust or estate, or simple association legal protection to discriminate against anyone if they claim doing so is part of their religious belief. What it means is if a business owner is opposed to gays and a couple walks into his restaurant, he can refuse to serve them, physically assault them, and literally throw them out of his establishment if he claims “the bible made him do it.” Yarborough’s legislation means he cannot be prosecuted for assault, discrimination, or violating the Constitution if he claims he was exercising religion. However, it will not stop there. For example, if a homeowner’s association wants to keep non-white people from moving into their neighborhood they could ban realtors from selling or renting homes to minorities, or evict minorities from their homes on grounds that African Americans, Asians, or Hispanics living in their vicinity violates their First Amendment free exercise of religion.
The Arizona legislation, if it becomes law, would effectively void the Constitution’s equal rights protections, eliminate anti-discrimination laws, and restrict the religious freedom of non-Christians just to name a few. It would give any entity, business, trust, or association the right to refuse to serve members of other religions, or ban them from a city if city leaders said it was against their religion to allow other faiths inside city boundaries. It is by no means a stretch of the imagination to believe that an Arizona citizen, business, church, association, or militia group would follow the bible’s commandment to stone gays or murder unmarried women cohabitating with a man if they knew citing religious freedom protected them from prosecution. The bill ultimately protects any religious person or group from arrest or prosecution for any heinous act if they claimed allowing someone to exercise their Constitutional right inhibited their exercise of religion. If the legislation becomes law it means religion is a “get out of jail” free card or legal justification to break any law including murder or violating the Constitution if it is founded on their religious belief.
Yarborough’s legislation is the iteration of what the religious right has been attempting to do for the past thirty years since Reagan gave them power to affect legislation to follow the bible. S.B. 1062 is the law Christians lust for to replace the Constitution that prohibits Christian extremists from imposing their will on the entire population under the guise of “religious liberty.” This is not the first time Yarborough has introduced legislation giving “religious license to discriminate against gays,” and he told a reporter he is very aware that “his bill could be used to discriminate against not only gay people, but also unmarried women, or people with different religious beliefs,” or that it “could actually allow religion to be used to justify breaking any law in Arizona.”
According to Yarborough, his bill does not infringe on people’s rights. He claims it is no different than pharmacists who are protected from dispensing the “morning after pill to women if it violates their religious beliefs,” but it is too far-reaching in its scope and literally legalizes any action, whether discrimination or biblical stoning, if the person or group of persons claims it is part of their “exercise of religion.” It is the kind of law the religious right pants over to give them authority to rule by theocracy, and an indication of what they have in mind when they say it is long-past time to revisit the First Amendment and clarify what “free exercise” of religion means.
Last year Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed an identical Yarborough bill as part of her vendetta against the legislature for not passing a budget, but with no vendetta on the horizon, there is a very good possibility Brewer will sign the bill into law when it passes the Arizona legislature again. Americans would be foolish to think that Yarborough’s legislation will not catch on in other states. It is important to remember that Arizona is by no means the most religious state in the Union, and the idea behind his bill is the impetus for the Hobby Lobby case due to be ruled on by the Supreme Court this year, as well as the Utah Mormon appeal to continue its ban on same-sex marriages. The religious right has spent the past five years arguing that their Constitutional freedom to exercise religion includes forcing compliance with bible edicts on the rest of the population, and if any American thinks it will end with Christians banning contraception or same-sex marriage, they have not been paying attention to calls to revert to biblical punishment for any number of scriptural violations.
The Constitution is clear that government cannot infringe on any Americans’ right to exercise religion, but the religious rights wants to alter definition of “exercise religion” to give them legal cover to infringe on every other Americans’ right to their Constitutional protections. There is no good outcome of legislation like Arizona’s SB 1062, and no American should be deluded that extremists would stop at taking religious license to discriminate against gays, because the Christian bible is rife with atrocities against the human race. With protection from prosecution based on free exercise of religion, and a religious text full of commands to exterminate non-believers, the bible is just the guide Christian fundamentalists will use to stone gays, women, and members of other religions if one horrifying Arizona bill catches on in truly religious states, and replaces the Constitution.