Jesus got it wrong. So says the state of Arizona. That whole “love your neighbor” thing? Just a son learning the family business floating a trial balloon – and it just crashed in Arizona. Today SB1062 is On Our Radar.
I spent some time reading SB 1062, the “right to discriminate” bill sitting on Governor Brewer’s desk awaiting a signature – or hopefully, a veto. I wanted to make sure I understand what it says.
Discrimination is framed as a religious freedom. According to the bill, people cannot be free to exercise their religion unless they can discriminate against people they object to. SB1062 works like a get out of jail free card if someone sues them for acts of discrimination – except when you read “jail” think civil lawsuits.
Here’s the essence of the bill:
“A person whose religious exercise is burdened….may assert that violation as a claim or a defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.”
Now, in order to use that get out of jail free card there are guideleines the law sets up:
“The person’s action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief.
- The person’s religious belief is sincerely held
- The state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person’s religious beliefs
Now this sounds hopeful! “Substantially burdens”, that has to be a high bar, right?
Maybe not so lofty. SB1062 was drafted in response to a same-sex couple suing a photographer who refused to take photos for them. If taking pictures “substantially burdens” a Christian photographer, there isn’t much of a bar.
And while we are discussing what acts might constitute a “substantial burden”, I think we’d all be interested in knowing how they are going to determine who has a “sincerely held religious belief”.
If SB1062 is signed into law, and that same Christian photographer were to be sued by another same-sex couple, he could now claim “sincerely held religious belief” and ask the judge to dismiss the case. But what the legislature may not have thought about is the gay couple will now have the right to challenge that the photographer really holds such deep beliefs. Suddenly people are going to be under oath about just how Christian they are.
Lawyer: Mr. Photographer. You say your religious beliefs are that homosexuality is a sin.
Photographer: Yes, sir I do.
Lawyer: How about getting pregnant out of wedlock? Is you religion against that too?
Photographer: Yes sir.
Lawyer: Yet your own daughter got pregnant out of wedlock…
Photographer: People make mistakes. The Lord says to forgive the sinner.
Lawyer: But not the gay sinner? Tell me, sir, do you take pictures of your grandchild who was the born against your “sincerely held beliefs?”
This could be a real boon for Court TV.
Something else about this bill you should keep in mind. People who don’t follow the news seem to have the reaction: “well, it could never include firefighters or EMS techs or police.” But during debate, Democrats tried to amend the bill to keep those kind of public workers from being able to use the SB1062 get out of jail free card. Republicans voted it down. So even though it might seem like a no-brainer that in America those workers would have to respond no matter who, no matter what. Not in Arizona. Not anymore.
So let’s pretend an EMS worker who has a sincerely held religious belief that homosexuality is a grave sin, gets a call to the home of a gay couple who have adopted a special needs child. The EMS tech has been there before, so he knows the little boy has a breathing tube, but he has also seen both “daddies” holding his hands and giving him reassurances, and he found that display objectionable. So he refuses to go. The legislature gave him the right. Sincerely held belief.
By the time another unit is dispatched from farther away, the boy suffers brain damage. If the dads try to sue, can the EMS worker use the SB1062 get out of jail free card? If he can show “sincerely held belief”, yes. Yes he can.
But do you know who can still be sued? The city government that hired him for a job his “sincerely held belief” kept him from performing. That vulnerability could prompt the people doing the hiring to question applicants about their religiosity, and turn away candidates who are so “Christian” it might open them up to a lawsuit.
Be careful what you wish for Arizona Christians.
Here’s another problem. What happens if the person with the sincerely held belief is mistaken?
Lets say our EMS tech attends a church urging people not to do business with gay people. A 911 call comes in and he finds the address of the caller on a list of same-sex households his church gave him. So he refuses to go. “Sincere religious belief.” If the 911 caller dies waiting for another ambulance to be dispatched, can his opposite sex wife sue the EMS tech because he wasn’t gay like the EMS tech believed? I don’t know. There isn’t anything in SB1062 about whether the get out of jail free card works in cases of mistaken “sincerely held belief”.
The law doesn’t save children either. Teachers with “sincerely held beliefs” can now refuse to teach a student who comes out. SB1062 protects that teacher and a private school from lawsuits by the parents, but it doesn’t protect a public school. So once again, the legislature has imperiled the hiring of “too Christian” teachers, and opened up the need to question job applicants about their religious beliefs.
And while we’re on the subject of schools, did you know Arizona law already prohibits teachers from presenting being gay as a “positive alternative life-style”? The legislature has determined teachers cannot even suggest to children that there are “safe methods of homosexual sex.” I saw the policy referred to as “no promo homo”. It reminded me of Russia’s “don’t say gay” law. It’s not a crime to be gay, but it is a crime to talk about it.
And maybe that is the real reason for SB1062. Just like the Russian propaganda law, it is a way to encourage Arizona’s gay citizens to stay closeted.
Like Russia’s “don’t say gay” law, SB1062 was made by the kind of people who say things like, “I don’t mind gay people, just keep it out of the public square.” Or. “I have nothing against gays. I just don’t want my kids knowing about them.” They don’t think of their actions as discrimination. They have a “sincerely held belief” that gay people wanting to be respected as equals discriminates against their religious freedom to treat gays as undeserving of respect. This Arizona bill encourages gay people not to live out loud – to hide who they are, lest they be discriminated against by people with a get out of jail free card in their pockets.
It seems to me the Arizona legislature has confused “freedom” with license. Maybe Governor Brewer (right) will recognize that and veto the bill.
Today Arizona’s SB1062 is On Our Radar.
Photos via Arizona Highways Facebook
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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