There have been many misrepresentations regarding the Arizona bill SB 1062 (which was recently vetoed by Governor Brewer). The two-page legislation consisted of minor clarifications of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been on the books for 15 years and is modeled on the federal act that passed with big bipartisan majorities in the 1990s and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Besides the federal government, 18 states have such statutes and about a dozen other states interpret their state constitutions as extending the same protections. Despite the recent frenzied headlines, there are not even any references to homosexuality in the bill.
This bill was NOT to “allow businesses to turn down homosexuals from shopping or purchasing at their stores.” It was NOT about “denying rights to homosexuals.” It was to provide an “opt out” via religious conscience for those who felt they could not participate, for example, in a gay wedding by way of providing goods and services for such an event (the marriage of two men or two women is itself the immoral activity that is religiously prohibitive). I think that it is important that the focus is on a particular event being the conscientious objection, rather than a particular person or group of people.
The bill was actually a preventative measure. The cases that have come up relevant to the Arizona debate involve small-business people declining to provide their services to gay couples at their marriage ceremonies. The intent was about providing a defense against lawsuits, and about government overreach in the area of religious freedom.
A religious freedom statute doesn’t give anyone the right to do whatever he wants in the name of religion. It simply allows him to make his case in court that a law or a lawsuit substantially burdens his religion, and that there is no compelling governmental interest to justify the burden. The question isn’t actually whether businesses run by people opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds should provide their services for gay weddings; it is whether they should be compelled to by government.
Safeguards would need to be put in place to insure that such a law wouldn’t be abused. However, let’s not follow the media’s lead in framing such issues with rhetoric that simply isn’t true. Religious liberty matters. Christians shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihoods and their religious convictions. Religious freedom is too important for us, and also for society as a whole.