AZ bill letting businesses deny service for religious reasons sparks heated debate

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 26, 2014

image1320(Associated Press at Foxnews) – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is facing pressure from both sides of a heated debate over religious rights, as she weighs whether to sign a bill that would legally protect businesses that deny services to customers for religious reasons. 

The bill cleared the Arizona Legislature last week. Opponents are calling the measure “state-sanctioned discrimination” and raising such scenarios as gays being denied restaurant service or medical treatment when a business owner’s religion doesn’t condone homosexuality.

The bill updates existing Arizona law on the “exercise of religion” and protects businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits if they deny services based on a “sincere” religious belief.

Supporters argue the bill is about protecting religious freedom, not about allowing discrimination. And they frequently cite the case of a New Mexico photographer sued for refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple.

“This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith,” said state GOP [Republican] Senator Steve Yarbrough, the bill’s sponsor. 


Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

Brewer, a Republican, has five days to sign or veto the bill once it gets to her desk but has yet to clearly indicate what she will do. Brewer suggested over the weekend that she supports a business’s freedom of choice but remains unsure whether that has to be put into state law. She vetoed a similar bill proposed last year by Yarbrough. 

Despite some support in the state Legislature, prominent Republicans have pressed the GOP governor for a veto, including Sen. John McCain. Five of seven Republican candidates for governor also have called for the bill to be vetoed or withdrawn. The latest is Frank Riggs, a former California congressman, who said it is a “solution in search of a problem.” 

According to the new bill, “A person whose religious exercise is burdened … may assert that violation as a claim or a defense in a judicial proceeding.”

In addition to the New Mexico case, a gay couple in Arizona was recently denied service over religious beliefs when the owner of a small bakery declined to bake the couple a wedding cake. “I respectfully declined due to my personal Biblical convictions as a born-again Christian,” the owner told an Arizona TV station. “I firmly believe that my convictions in the Bible are more important than money.”

Similar legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. But Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. 

Supporters of the Arizona legislation also say it is needed to protect people from heavy-handed actions by courts and law enforcement.

The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or an individual. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.

Three state House Republicans opposed the bill but have not elaborated on their vote. “I disagree with the bill,” said GOP state Rep. Ethan Orr. “I think it’s a bad bill.”

Arizona’s voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage as a state constitutional amendment in 2008. It’s one of 29 states with such prohibitions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal judges have recently struck down bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Fox News. Visit the website at fox news .com.


When Governor Janet Napolitano was selected by President Obama to serve as the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2009, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer became governor. Arizona has no lieutenant governor, so the Secretary of State stands first in the line of succession if he or she holds that post as a result of an election. Brewer was sworn in as governor after Napolitano resigned from her position on January 21, 2009. She is Arizona's fourth female governor and its third consecutive female governor.

Gov. Brewer will not be able to run for a second full four-year term in 2014. The Arizona Constitution limits the governor to two consecutive terms, and the limit applies even when a governor ascends to the office in the middle of a term. However, former Arizona governors are allowed to seek additional nonconsecutive terms after a four-year respite. (from wikipedia) 

Issue Analysis: Arizona Bill Does Not Give Businesses License to Discriminate Against Gays

Some have claimed that a bill recently passed by the Arizona legislature would give businesses broad license to not serve someone for being gay. This claim, though, may be a misreading, according a CP legislative analysis. While the bill is an attempt to broaden who is covered under its religious freedom protections, in all cases it actually narrows when a religious belief could be used to refuse service.

Here are six important points to understand about the just-passed bill:

1.  If Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signs it, the bill, S.B. 1062, would make some modifications to a 1999 Arizona law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). 

2.  Under current Arizona law, if a business wanted to discriminate against gays, they would not need this bill to be passed to do so. It is not currently illegal for a business to deny service to someone because they are gay. Some cities in Arizona have ordinances against it but there is no state law against it. If business owners in Arizona wanted to deny service to gays, they could do so in most of the state under current law.

3. Even though business owners across most of Arizona (and much of the United States) have the right to deny service to gays, they are not doing so. Opponents of the bill claim it would usher in an era of "Jim Crow for gays," in which gays would be denied service at businesses across the state. If business owners really wanted to do this, though, they could already be doing it. The bill does not make that more or less likely. Business owners do not want to deny service to gays. This is not because they fear government sanction. Rather, it is because: 1) Their religious, ethical or moral beliefs tell them it is wrong to deny service; and/or, 2) the profit motive - turning away customers is no way to run a business.

4. A RFRA law, either state or federal, does not give anyone the license to do anything they want based upon their religious beliefs. Rather, it says what needs to happen for the government to take away someone's religious freedom. RFRA provides citizens with religious freedom protections, but that does not mean that everyone who claims their religious freedom is violated will win a court case using RFRA as their defense.

5. No business has ever successfully used RFRA, either a state RFRA or the federal RFRA, to defend their right to not serve gays. In fact, no business has even been before a court claiming to have that right.

6. Even if a business wanted to claim the right to not serve gays under RFRA, their claim would be even harder to defend under S.B. 1062. So, anyone who is concerned that someone may one day try to use RFRA to discriminate against gays should prefer the bill that was just passed over current law.