On Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of #SB1062 – the religious rights bill

Posted by: ST on February 27, 2014 at 10:41 am
Gov. Jan Brewer

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the last week or so you’ve heard about Arizona’s SB 1062 bill – dubbed by the mainstream media and those who oppose it as the “anti-gay” bill when the more correct term for it is that it actually was a religious rights/freedoms bill, a point even some national MSM outlets finally recognized … but only once it was vetoed last night by Governor Jan Brewer.

I didn’t devote much space here at the blog on this issue but perhaps I should have, not that it would have made any difference in retrospect. The bill was sparked in response to some cases that have sprouted up in the US involving bakers, photographers, florists and caterers who have been asked to bake a gay marriage wedding cake or provide some other service related to it – and who told their customers in response that they could not provide one on religious grounds. In a couple of instances, the bakers told the couples they’d make them any other type of cake but not one that celebrated gay marriage, but that wasn’t enough and the bakers got into legal trouble.  In one now-infamous case, an elderly florist in Washington state who had been happily providing flowers for two customers for  years declined to provide flowers for their wedding,  and that’s turned into an ugly battle that should have never been taken to the level it has:

Consider the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington State who is being sued by the attorney general of the state for refusing to involve her business in a gay wedding. You can watch her in her own words in the video above, but here’s what happened. Stutzman had been serving a gay couple in her flower shop for over ten years. She considered the men to be her friends, and they considered her to be their friend. The two gay men said that throughout their decade long friendship, they did not know that Stutzman believed homosexuality to be a sin. She didn’t treat them any differently than anyone else. She was a friend to them and served them while knowing full well that they were gay.

Does this sound like Jim Crow segregation to you? Does this sound like bigotry to you? Does this sound like discrimination to you? So what happened that got her in trouble?

The two men came into her shop one day and asked her to provide floral arrangements for their wedding celebration. Stutzman responded by taking her friend’s hand and saying this:

‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.

What happened next? Did the gay couple feel bad about putting their friend in a tough situation? Did they tell her, “We disagree, but we understand” and then take their business elsewhere? No, that’s not what they did. They used Facebook to spread the word about her refusal. Her refusal was reported to authorities, and now this Christian florist is being sued by the Washington State Attorney General.

Cases like that caught the attention of the Arizona state legislature, and they passed a bill – SB1062 - which, contra to the hysteria surrounding it by the Usual Suspects, did not allow you to carte blanche “refuse service to gay people” but instead gave you more of a firm legal ground in case you were sued because you refused to provide a service on religious grounds.   National Review’s Rich Lowry cuts through the bull:

The legislation consisted of minor clarifications of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been on the books for 15 years and is modeled on the federal act that passed with big bipartisan majorities in the 1990s and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

[...]

If you’ll excuse a brief, boring break from the hysteria to dwell on the text of the doomed bill, it stipulated that the word “person” in the law applies to businesses and that the protections of the law apply whether or not the government is directly a party to a proceeding (e.g., a lawsuit brought on anti-discrimination grounds).

Eleven legal experts on religious freedom statutes — who represent a variety of views on gay marriage — wrote a letter to Gov. Brewer prior to her veto explaining how the bill “has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics.”

[...]

In addition to the federal government, 18 states have such statutes and about a dozen other states interpret their state constitutions as extending the same protections, according to the letter. The statutes, the scholars write, “say that before government can burden a person’s religious exercise, the government has to show a compelling justification.”

The letter argues that, properly interpreted, the federal law that inspired the Arizona statute covers cases that don’t directly involve the government and covers businesses. So Arizona’s changes weren’t radical but in keeping with a federal law once championed by none other than Sen. Ted Kennedy.

A religious freedom statute doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the name of religion. It simply allows him to make his case in court that a law or a lawsuit substantially burdens his religion and that there is no compelling governmental interest to justify the burden.

[...]

The question isn’t whether businesses run by people opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds should provide their services for gay weddings; it is whether they should be compelled to by government. The critics of the much-maligned Arizona bill pride themselves on their live-and-let-live open-mindedness, but they are highly moralistic in their support of gay marriage, judgmental of those who oppose it and tolerant of only one point of view on the issue — their own.

For them, someone else’s conscience is only a speed bump on the road to progress. It’s get with the program, your religious beliefs be damned.

Indeed.

And just for the record, I think there were/are good arguments for and against the bill, but most opponents of it went straight for the jugular: “Anti-gay”, “Jim Crow laws”, “BOYCOTT” etc.  Once you start framing it in those terms without really trying to get to know the opinions of the people arguing for or against something, it’s hard to have a civil discussion about the merits – or lack thereof, if you feel that way – about any particular issue.

Anyway, she vetoed it so that’s done for now, but the issue itself is not going to go away.   The only question at this point will be: Which state will be next?

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2 Responses to “On Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of #SB1062 – the religious rights bill”

Comments

  1. Xrlq says:

    “A religious freedom statute doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the name of religion. It simply allows him to make his case in court that a law or a lawsuit substantially burdens his religion and that there is no compelling governmental interest to justify the burden.”

    Not quite carte blanche, but damned close. “There is no compelling government interest” is only half the test; the state must also prove it’s narrowly tailored to that interest. This is the “strict scrutiny” test, the most exacting standard courts apply to anything. That’s already the law for religious institutions, but SB 1062 would have extended the same rule to just about everyone. For example, Arizona law generally forbids discrimination in employment by gender. The state clearly has a compelling interest in protecting both sexes from discrimination, but forcing the Catholic Church to ordain women as priests is not narrowly tailored to it. So under existing law, the Catholic Church can discriminate by sex. If SB 1062 had been signed into law, any random business that happens to be owned by a Catholic could, too.

    And it’s not just discrimination laws, either. SB 1062 would have given everyone carte almost-blanche to flout almost any law they don’t like, provided they could argue with a straight face that it conflicts with their religion. I’d have seriously considered establishing the Church of Marijuana there just to see what happens. The state could probably meet the strict scrutiny test against the Church of Crack, but MJ? Nah. SB 1062 would have easily legalized pot in that state, though it’s doubtful any of its proponents contemplated that result (even though the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, upon which SB 1062 is based, was indeed about protecting drug abuse in the name of religion, specifically peyote).

    Finally, as to anti-gay, it bears noting that the bill itself says nothing about gayness, or even discrimination more generally, but who are we kidding? We all know why the bill was introduced, when it was. I agree that “religious freedom” is a more accurate characterization of what the bill would have done, but “religious anarchy” would have been better still.

  2. Tuerqas says:

    So under existing law, the Catholic Church can discriminate by sex. If SB 1062 had been signed into law, any random business that happens to be owned by a Catholic could, too.

    And you think the state could not make a compelling case in that instance? Sorry, but there is already significant precedence that your opinion here is just plain wrong. To correct you: ‘any random business that happens to be owned by a Catholic could try it, too, but they would pay for and lose every lawsuit.’

    If you start a business today, you can hire only pretty 17 year old white girls, but unless there is some sort of lawfully compelling reason for it, any non-white non-17 year old girl will win their suit, if they press it, Every. Single. Time.

    I also love how you can just skip by the whole section covering how this law is just mirroring federal law passed with love by Democrats 15 years ago. Are they just out-dated and wrong now?