It is a sad fact of life that there are, and have always been, flawed human beings so filled with hate that they seek justification to break societal laws governing human behavior that protect the public and maintain a semblance of order. Historically, some of the world’s worst atrocities were committed under the auspices of religion, but in America the Founding Fathers inserted a clause in the Constitution to protect both the population from religious atrocities and to ensure the religious that their right to worship was protected under the law. Over the past four years, the religious right has desperately sought justification to violate the Constitution and the laws governing American society with impunity, and Republicans in Arizona rewarded Christian extremists with legislation that allows them to violate any law under the guise of religious liberty; specifically the practice and observance of religion.
It was exactly a month ago that Arizona Republicans moved a bill, S.B. 1062, out of a senate committee that provides religious justification for discrimination if it is part of a person or groups’ practice and observance of religion. However, the law goes beyond giving legal protection for religious right extremists to discriminate; it provides state-sponsored legal cover to break any law that conflicts with their perverse concept of religious liberty. In fact, the legislation “specifies that a free exercise of religion claim or defense may be asserted in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding” and, “the state shall be prohibited, and you cannot be sued, for the practice of any faith.” Unlike the recent Kansas law the Republican senate dumped as specifically discriminatory toward gays, the Arizona legislation never mentions gays.
What the bill means is that any person is legally protected from prosecution or litigation if, in the commission of a crime, the person claims they were practicing or observing a religion as part of their Constitutionally protected free exercise of religion. The legislation sponsored by Republican Steve Yarborough even “defines state action as any action by the government or the implementation or application of any law, including state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether the implementation or action is made or attempted to be made by the government or nongovernmental persons.” The legislation further protects an organization or group of people from prosecution for violating “any law, including state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, and policies” by “expanding the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”
The legislation opens the door for people who do not subscribe or conform to a religious belief because under its definition of exercise of religion and the all-encompassing “practice or observance of religion” it allows any individual, or group of individuals 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.” What that means is someone not active in, or following, a religion’s tenets can simply commit a crime and claim they were motivated by a religious belief whether or not they acted in accordance with a personally-held belief or a religious doctrine. Subsequently, S.B. 1062 gives Arizonans precisely what Supreme Court Antonin Scalia asserted was “an exaggerated view of religious freedom that serves to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
This abomination masquerading as legislation is precisely what the religious right and career criminals have dreamt of throughout their pathetic lives. It is the ultimate “conscience clause” that allows medical professionals to refuse to treat a dying patient, homophobic monsters to capture and stone gays to death, sexual predators to abuse women and children, or secular for-profit businesses like Hobby Lobby to ban employee’s contraception use because it violates the company’s “free exercise of religion;” even if their religion is unrelated to any known faith. Arizona Democrats argued that the bill would allow any person to beak any Arizona law, but Yarborough countered that the Democrats’ concerns were “unrealistic and unsupported hypotheticals” and claimed criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the courts. However, Yarborough’s legislation clearly states that “a free exercise of religion claim or defense may be asserted in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.”
A law like this has been in the offing for some time, and although there are five or six Republican-controlled states moving in the same direction as Arizona Republicans, none of the other proposals go so far as to give blanket protection from prosecution to violate any law if the offender cites “free exercise of religion.” Although Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year because the state legislature would not pass a budget, there is no guarantee she will veto the legislation this year because she cannot run for re-election due to term limits. This is the same Jan Brewer that berated the President of the United States, and if she was willing to veto any law in her vendetta against a Republican-dominated legislature for not passing a budget, there is nothing to stop her from dealing Democrats a defeat by signing the legislation into law.
If any American was skeptical of how far Republicans will go to give the fundamentalist Christians their “religious liberty” to dominate the population, this freak of legislation should be an eye-opener if not frighten the life out of them. It is important for all Americans to remember that there are a substantial number of Americans who are convinced that not only is America a Christian nation, they truly believe their god mandated they rule all Americans even if it means disregarding the Constitution and any other laws they oppose to create a theocracy; by force if necessary. In fact, according to the Arizona legislation, any group is free to violate any law if they claim they were “substantially motivated by a religious belief.” Under those conditions, no Arizonan is safe in their home, workplace, or in public because any criminal, Islamophobe, racist, misogynist, or homophobe cannot be prosecuted for any crime if they claim they exercised their religious liberty.
The only reasonable explanation for why extremist Christians demand the religious liberty to impose their beliefs on every American is sheer religious tyranny and not simply the personal practice or observance of a religious belief. Republicans across the nation pander to the religious right for votes, but many socially conservative Republican politicians like Ted Cruz are true believers in every sense of the word. They would, if allowed, impose Old Testament penalties on the population and claim they were practicing or observing their religious beliefs if Arizona’s legislation catches on across the nation. With similar bills sprouting up in Republican-controlled states with increasing frequency, it is certain that more Republican-dominated legislatures will follow Arizona’s lead and grant fundamentalists the religious liberty they lust. With Republicans in Congress claiming President Obama is waging a war on Christianity, and defending extremist Christian’s so-called religious liberty to force adherence to biblical edicts, this country is lurching precariously close toward a religious conflict between extremist Christians and the rest of the population and the government. In Arizona, evangelical extremists may soon have legal cover to begin resorting to violence with impunity whether it is stoning unmarried mothers, gays, disobedient children, or burning suspected witches. If any American is skeptical it will never get that extreme, it is doubtless women in Salem Massachusetts thought they were safe from witch-hunts when they fled Europe only to find that like today, extremist Christians are everywhere and they are panting to exercise their religious liberty.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.