Arizona Senator Introduces Bill to Protect Rights of Religious Business Owners

Open sign pdPHOENIX — A Republican representative from Arizona has introduced a bill that seeks to protect the rights of religious business owners to refuse to facilitate acts that violate their faith.

Senator Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) recently presented SB 1062 to the Senate Government and Environment Committee, which approved the legislation to move forward to the full Senate by a 4-2 vote.

SB 1062 serves to provide clarification to the existing protections afforded to religious exercise, ensuring that the applicability of the protections includes “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”

“Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral,” the proposed law outlines.

It bars the state from substantially burdening an entity’s free exercise or religion unless there is a “compelling government interest” and the least restrictive means are used to further the interest. As the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts already use this standard to test the constitutionality of laws, the statute would simply ensure that the same protections are enforced by the state.

Yarbrough said that he was prompted to propose the legislation after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer in the state could not decline to shoot a same-sex ceremony, thus violating the Biblical command in 1 Timothy 5:22 to not be “partakers in other men’s sins.” The case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, critics of the bill assert that the legislation wrongfully allows for the unlawful discrimination of minorities, dubbing it the “right to discriminate bill” and the “religious bigotry bill.”

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“[These bills] generally result from persons claiming that their religious beliefs entitle them to disregard civil-rights laws that protect against various discrimination including on the basis of religion, gender, marital status, national origin and sexual orientation,” Dan Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the East Valley Tribune.

Others assert that the legislation would allow businesses to refuse to serve non-Christians and homosexuals, as well as women who co-habitate or have sex outside of marriage.

But Yarbrough said that the proposal would not change any existing laws.

“Prohibited discrimination remains prohibited,” he told reporters. “In no way does this bill allow discrimination of any kind. …  [A]ll this going crazy lighting their hair on fire is misplaced.”

John Kredit, an attorney with the Pheonix-based Center for Arizona Policy, agreed. He told Christian News Network that SB 1023 simply echoes federal law and ensures that it is reinforced on a state level.

“The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been around since 1993,” he explained, “and none of these ‘sky is falling’ things have happened.”

“Recent cases have brought to light areas that we are correcting,” Kredit stated. “We just want to ensure that a citizen does not surrender their religious rights in the workplace.”

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