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Religious Liberty Refused Service in Arizona

Brewer to Hold Meetings on Arizonas Religious Freedom for Businesses Bill Gage Skidmore

Gage Skidmore

Brantly Millegan - published on 02/26/14

And yes, the bill was about religious liberty.

“At least SB1062 was debated honestly and well.”

That’s what commentator Charles C. W. Cook tweeted sarcastically last night after Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a law amending its Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1999.

The bill was widely dubbed “anti-gay,” “discriminatory,” and a “new Jim Crow.” There were calls for boycotts (some people still want to boycott the state even after the veto), including insinuations the NFL might punish the state by re-locating next year’s Super Bowl which is scheduled to take place in Arizona. And both of the state’s Republican Senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, called on Brewer to veto the bill, citing concerns that backlash from its passage would hurt the state’s economy.

But did the condemnations reflect the actual bill?

Not even close. The bill can be read online and is just two pages long. It makes a handful of changes to an existing religious freedom law that was passed in 1999 – changes, according to Napp Nazworth over at The Christian Post, that were meant to clarify what the law always intended to mean in light of recent court rulings. A similar law was passed in 1993 at the federal level by a nearly unanimous, bipartisan vote in Congress and signed into law by President Clinton – and still stands.

Given that,New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asked yesterday evening, “Is there a plausible argument out there that the Arizona bill actually did something more expansive than the existing federal RFRA?” With the answer apparently “no,” he concluded, “… then its legal impact is *nothing* like the descriptions circulating the press.”

Indeed, if such laws are really just thinly veiled discrimination against homosexuals, the bigots just waiting to put up “no gays allowed” signs in their restaurants have been incredibly slow in their efforts, silently biding their time for the last two decades.

As Nazworth explains, “[u]nder 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.” Yet, as he importantly points out,

“[e]ven 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.” [my emphasis]

There are no “straight only” restaurants or barbershops anywhere, and no one wants them. The only examples of religious liberty butting heads with the cultural advance of homosexuality in recent years have been circumstances such as when a wedding vendor does not want to serve a gay wedding or a t-shirt maker doesn’t want to print shirts for a gay pride parade. In such cases, the vendor isn’t refusing service because the persons are gay, but because they don’t agree with the actions they are being asked to support. An analogous example would be someone refusing to provide services for a KKK rally, not because they hate the members of the KKK, but because they disagree with that organization’s mission.

Now, in light of the fact that the law does not even mention homosexuals, same-sex couples, same-sex weddings, or anything similar, and that it in actuality simply clarifies an existing law on how the protection of religious freedom already guaranteed by the
First Amendment to the Constitution should work in practice, take a step back and consider again the incredible reaction to this bill.

One person on Twitter offered this “hypothesis” to explain the misrepresentation in the media: “journalists care a/b free speech/press cuz they practice em; journalists don’t care a/b free religion cuz they dont.”

Author Ben Shapiro was critical of the Republican response. "Not sure what the GOP stands for when it stands against religious freedom out of pure fear of political correctness.”

But one exchange on Twitter pretty much summed up the controversy. Senior Editor of The Federalist Mollie Hemingway tweeted sarcastically, “Hey guys, if religious liberty were important, don’t you think the Founders would have put it in the Bill of Rights?”

“What the hell is the ‘Bill of Rights?’” Rich Cromwell quipped in response.

Another follower Jon Swerenshad the answer: “I hear it’s some sort of anti-gay legislation.”

Brantly Milleganis an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Second Nature, Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity, and is working on a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is

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