SB 1062 offers warped view of religious freedom

On Feb. 20, the Arizona Legislature approved Senate Bill 1062, which sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, contends will expand the freedom of religion.

Critics of SB 1062 and its counterpart in the House, House Bill 2153, dispute the idea that it will have any such effect and will instead be a legal license for store owners to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community.

Yarbrough insists that he has no desire to allow discrimination, merely to prevent “discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”



This is Yarbrough’s reaction to a New Mexico case in which a gay couple sued a photographer who refused to take pictures of the couple’s wedding because of their sexual orientation. Apparently, “living out your faith” looks less like “Sermon on the Mount” and more like making a mountain of a molehill.

The idea that this bill does anything to actually expand religious freedoms is both laughable and disingenuous. It requires a completely warped view of religious freedom to take that contention seriously.

Actual language from the bill specifies that a “free exercise of religion claim or defense may be asserted in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding."

The First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom applies specifically to government action, whether on the federal or state level.

This bill would allow anyone being sued for refusing services to say such refusal furthered their religious beliefs.

It gives those who would deny service based on a religious belief license to argue in court that they get an automatic out for discriminatory practices which may be against local or municipal anti-discrimination ordinances — essentially nullifying such legislation.

The backlash has been immediate and intense. Even Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, and Senate Majority Whip Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, who voted in favor of the bill, are now asking Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the bill — though their reasoning is less than sound.

“The bill has … been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance,” they wrote. “These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm.”

It is not the allegations of intolerance that are causing harm to Arizona. It is intolerance itself that is causing harm to Arizonans.

In dealing with the freedom of religion, a bedrock freedom of American life, there are areas that are subject to restriction. As far as religious belief goes, there are no restrictions. It is impossible to legislate against what someone has in his or her head.

What one does, however, regardless of whether it is in accordance with religious beliefs, can absolutely be regulated — within reason, of course. If an action harms another individual, that individual should be able to seek redress through the court system if no other option is available to them.

The idea that discrimination, even on religious grounds, should not be subject to legal action runs counter to American ideals of freedom and democracy — that one person’s “freedom” to discriminate ends where another’s rights begin.

Reach the columnist at or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas

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