Friday, February 21, 2014

Arizona SB1062, Which May Permit Discrimination Under Cover Of Free Exercise Of Religion, Could Pose A Potential Threat To Mormons If It Becomes Law

This may come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog, since I am a hardline social conservative who opposes gay marriage. But I have misgivings about a piece of legislation passed on February 21st, 2014 by the Arizona State House. The bill, if signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, could be flipped around by anti-religious extremists to target members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other religious conservatives for discrimination under protective cover of their own beliefs.

Update February 26th: Governor Brewer vetoed the bill. She said the bill was unnecessary legislation that threatened the state’s recovering economy by driving away high-profile events such as next year’s Super Bowl and corporations looking to relocate to Arizona. She also said the proposed law was too broadly worded and could have resulted in unintended and negative consequences. Good move, was too broadly worded.

The Arizona State House passed SB1062 (also known as HB2153) by a 33-27 vote on February 21st, just one day after the State Senate passed the same bill by a party-line 17-13 vote (17 Republicans, 13 Democrats. The House vote was almost party line, with only three Republicans voting against the bill. The bill's original sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), said it was prompted by the infamous New Mexico case in which the state's Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to take pictures of their wedding. An unscientific online poll conducted by the Arizona Republic indicates only limited public support; over 81 percent of respondents want Gov. Brewer to veto the bill. Gov. Brewer has five days to sign it into law, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law. Although Gov. Brewer vetoed a similar bill in 2013, the Arizona Republic suggests it may not be a clear predictor of what she’ll do this time, because according to her veto letter, her decision to reject last year’s bill was due more to a political battle over Medicaid expansion than objection to the legislation. CNN claims that Gov. Brewer has expressed her personal belief in the right of business owners to deny service in the past.

According to the Arizona Republic (which provides only a limited number of free views per month), the legislation proposes the following specifics:

-- Expand the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion.

-- Allow someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings.

-- Expand those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”

-- Establish wording that says that in order to assert a free-exercise-of-religion defense, the individual, business or church must establish that its action is motivated by a religious belief, that the belief is sincerely held and that the belief is substantially burdened.

Read the specific language of the bill HERE.

Caveat: Although this legislation may appear to protect conservatives on the surface, it may be a double-edged sword. What's to stop a business owner who's a member of a gay-friendly church like the Metropolitan Community Church to refuse service to Mormons because the LDS Church opposes gay marriage? And what's to stop an Evangelical business owner from refusing service to Mormons because of his theological belief that Mormonism is a "cult"? This bill could easily be used as a weapon against us, and while we may be able to successfully defray such action, there's no guarantee that a judge will rule sensibly. After all, no one dreamed that unelected judges would invalidate the constitutional definitions of marriage in Utah and Oklahoma.

Now we better understand why the LDS Church leadership has pursued a two-track strategy in dealing with gay activism. While the Brethren have circled the wagons in defense of traditional marriage and are pulling out all the stops to prevent gay marriage, the Brethren have expressed no opposition to anti-discrimination legislation protecting gays in other areas. The Brethren correctly perceive that gay marriage poses a greater threat to civilization than anti-discrimination ordinances. Once again, the Brethren have shown that they're on top of the situation and want to protect our right as Mormons to advocate publicly without fear of discrimination; this also keeps the window of opportunity to evangelize the world wide open for as long as possible. While Jesus Christ is indeed the real head of the LDS Church, let us not forget that he has delegated His authority to his chosen servants upon this earth. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve constitute that chosen authority, not because they are inerrant or infallible, but because they're good enough for Christ. When we have Primary children sing "follow the prophet", we are asking them to follow the Savior as well.


Anonymous said...

I hope the LDS Church does realize that there will be back lash if this law put into place. growing up in Mesa Arizona I know how those of us that we're not a member of your church feel about mormons, this just does not help.

Anonymous said...

We do not need more laws, until the Second Coming, we have enough and to spare.