Arizona’s state legislature has just passed SB 1062, a bill that is commonly being referred to as the “Right to Discriminate” Bill. This bill would give business owners the right to refuse to serve any person based on the owner’s religious beliefs. According to CNN, the bill was written by the Center for Arizona Policy and a Christian legal organization who were partly inspired by the case of a wedding photographer in New Mexico who got taken to court for refusing to shoot a gay wedding ceremony. Check out this short news clip about the legislation here.
Okay, I’m going to step out of my “reporter” tone and into my “what the @#$%?!” tone now. How do people even think that something like this is okay? I understand that the Bill of Rights protects freedom of religion, but does one person’s freedom of religion trump another person’s right to basic goods and services? I honestly do not understand how providing services to an LGBTQ individual (or any other individual that may seem to violate one’s religious beliefs) is infringing on the business owner’s freedom of religion. The business owner is providing that person with a service. They are not being forced to participate in said individual’s lifestyle or to stop practicing their own religion. They are simply being asked to serve all customers and treat all customers with respect.
Additionally, this bill seems scarily similar to Jim Crow laws that existed before the Civil Rights Movement which allowed businesses to refuse service to a customer based on their skin color. Perhaps the Arizona state legislature would argue that Jim Crow laws were based in racism, while SB 1062 is based on a person’s right to religious freedom. However, people have used their religion for centuries to justify all types of horrendous acts. Anyone remember the Crusades? In our country’s own history, the Bible was used to justify slavery. If someone today said, “My freedom of religion is being infringed upon because I cannot own slaves,” would we then allow this person to own slaves? Of course we wouldn’t. Because the right of a group not to be owned as property, to not be marginalized and discriminated against trumps freedom of religion.
This bill is a slippery slope into more widespread discrimination. Matthew Whitaker from CNN sums it up when he states:
Under the guise of religious freedom, however, the bill would enable businesses potentially to discriminate against virtually anyone — not just Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, agnostics and atheists, but also unwed mothers, Rastafarians and Budweiser T-shirt wearers. This bill is arbitrary, capricious and antithetical to the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that inform our documents of freedom.
It will lead to marginalization and oppression by allowing bigots to deny gay people access to virtually any business or service. The road to Indian genocide, Jim Crow, Japanese-American internment, the Holocaust and other iterations of human persecution began with laws that isolated and dehumanized entire groups of people.
If we allow a bill to pass which gives individuals the right to essentially discriminate against whoever they wish to (but most likely LGBTQ individuals), based on the very vague grounds of religious freedom, who knows what could come next? I fully support every individual’s right to practice whatever religion they desire to practice. But I also fully support every law abiding citizen’s right to live free of discrimination, intolerance and marginalization.
The bill is now on the desk of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Let’s hope she makes the right choice.