Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer talks about the upcoming legislative session during an interview at the Capitol Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

‘Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword’

Updated
When a bad idea pops up in a state legislature, it’s about as common as the sunrise. When the same bad idea pops up in 10 state legislatures at the same time, something odd is going on.
 
At issue are proposals to make anti-gay discrimination easier for social conservatives under the guise of “religious liberty.” Kansas, for example, recently generated national headlines for a bill that would have given those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” license to discriminate practically everywhere – restaurants could deny gay couples service; hotels could deny gay couples rooms, even public-sector workers could refuse to provide services to LGBT Kansans.
 
Kansas’ right-to-discriminate bill was derailed, but as Adam Serwer reported yesterday, very similar proposals have drawn attention in Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. My colleague Laura Conaway found a related measure in Maine.
 
“Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword,” Nick Worner of the Ohio ACLU said, paraphrasing George H.W. Bush appointed federal Judge Carol Jackson. “It’s not religious freedom when you’re using it to hurt someone else.”
 
For proponents of civil rights, the good news is that these proposals are faltering in nine states. The bad news is, a bill in Arizona’s Republican-led legislature actually passed yesterday.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.
 
The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.
This is no modest effort to accommodate religiously motivated discrimination.
 
Democratic opponents of the bill tried to make clear to GOP lawmakers just how significant the right-to-discriminate measure would be.
[O]pponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.
 
“The message that’s interpreted is: ‘We want you to work here, but we are not going to go out of our way to protect you, to protect your rights, to protect your family,’ ” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “God forbid should someone come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in.”
The bill is awaiting action from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has not yet taken a position on the proposal.
 
If she signs it into law, a legal challenge would be inevitable. Organized boycotts would also appear likely.

Arizona, Civil Rights, Discrimination and Gay Rights

'Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword'

Updated