Moral Low Ground

US Government

Protests Against SB 1062, Arizona Bill Legalizing Religious-Based Discrimination

Hundreds protested at Arizona’s state capitol Friday after the state legislature approved a controversial bill allowing businesses to refuse service to any potential customers based on the owner’s religious beliefs.

Carrying placards reading “Shame on Arizona,” “Don’t Legalize Discrimination” and other slogans, and repeatedly chanting “veto,” the Phoenix demonstrators urged Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, to reject the measure, which was passed by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 33-27. The mostly party-line vote on SB 1062, a bill proponents claim is about protecting religious freedom, followed earlier Senate approval of the bill by a vote of 17-13.

But opponents say the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ legalizes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, “state-sanctioned discrimination” that will further harm the image, and potentially the economy, of a state already considered a laughing stock in national, and even foreign, progressive circles.

“The world is upset with how Russia has treated gay rights… I think it’s time for that same anger to be directed toward Arizona,” tweeted House minority leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat.

“SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” Senate Democrat leader Anna Tovar said in a statement. “With the express consent of Republicans in this legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.”

Sen. Tovar added that the bill “may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”

But SB 1062 co-sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough countered the bill is “not about allowing discrimination.”

“This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith,” the Republican asserted.

The measure awaits the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican who acknowledged the controversial nature of the bill during a Friday CNN interview.

“It’s a very controversial piece of legislation, we know that,” said Brewer. “We know that it’s failed in a lot of states across the country… I’ve been reading about it on the Internet and I will make my decision some time before… by next Friday… if I do decide to sign it. But it’s very controversial, so I’ve got to get my hands around it.”

There was also an anti-SB 1062 rally in Tucson, and one was scheduled in Flagstaff as well.

While many Arizona conservatives clearly support the bill, at least one GOP lawmaker who initially backed the measure now says he regrets his stance and wants the bill to fail.

“I screwed up,” Sen. Steve Pierce told Capitol Media Services on Sunday. “I’m trying to make it right.”

“I don’t like the negative picture of Arizona, and I’m on board asking the governor to veto the bill,” Pierce told the Daily Courier.

And while SB 1062 is billed as a measure to protect religious liberty, not all of the state’s faith leaders support it.

“I’m quite frustrated and angry that they [the bill’s supporters] are using religion to couch their own hatred, bigotry and discrimination,” Rev. Stephen Govett, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Phoenix, told KSAZ. “In all that we hold sacred, nowhere do I find it anywhere where it says it is okay to discriminate against someone you don’t agree with.”

Moral Low Ground encountered similar opposition to the bill among numerous Arizona Christians.

“We are to love and serve as Jesus did,” said Glendale nurse Christina Trifanoff. “This is a ridiculous and hateful bill. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say I live in Arizona.”

“For the record, I’m Christian and do not agree with SB 1062,” said Raechel Clevenger of Black Canyon City, who believes that for the most part, Arizona is “a really great state with great laws.” But the mother of six called SB 1062 “stupidity” and worried that it could be used by “any religion to discriminate based on some belief they decide they have.”

“If you choose not to accept certain people, fine, no law needed,” said Clevenger. “Morals should be stronger than greed without some law to protect you.” Clevenger called the measure “a nanny state bill that is pitting sides against each other.”

Still, plenty of Arizonans expressed support for the measure.

“The Arizona bill has a very simple premise, that Americans should be free to live and work according to their religious faith,” Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policytold CNN. “It’s simply about protecting religious liberty and nothing else.”

Herrod added that those who oppose the bill are “showing unbelievable hostility towards religious beliefs.”

But Trifanoff simply asks, “What would Jesus do?”

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