Do you believe a photographer who identifies as homosexual should be punished for refusing to photograph an event celebrating the Westboro Baptist Church’s hateful ideas? Do you believe a Jewish printer should be threatened for declining to promote a conference criticizing Israel? Do you believe a pacifist should be coerced to paint pro-war posters for a rally? If you believe all these are wrong, you should support Arizona’s SB 1062—because that’s what the bill’s about rather than the things you may have heard.
Distortion has been out in full force regarding the bill, a simple adjustment the Arizona Legislature made to the state’s existing religious freedom law to make clear what it has always protected and to bring it into conformity with federal law.
From what you see on TV, however, you might think every person in Arizona wants to stop serving sandwiches to those who aren’t heterosexual. In truth, this bill would not allow anything so ridiculous. It hasn’t happened since the law went on the books in 1999, nor would this new bill allow it to happen.
On the contrary, the bill was created to prevent discrimination—the kind that has become common in incidents around the country involving people who simply don’t want the government to single them out and force them to act contrary to their own convictions.
SB 1062 merely clarifies Arizona’s existing law to protect Arizonans from any attempt by the government to force them to speak or act in ways that violate their religious beliefs. It safeguards freedom by closing loopholes that have allowed other state governments to punish private citizens for living and working according to their convictions.
In doing this, the law helps protect every Arizona citizen from unjust fines and other punishments for refusing to promote messages or participate in events the government demands he or she advance. And it brings Arizona law into conformity with the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Clinton and supported by groups like the ACLU.
Despite the simple, commonsense purpose of the bill, its opponents have turned it into something it is not. It would not allow a business owner to refuse someone a meal or a taxi ride. There’s a key distinction between selling someone paint and allowing the government to force you to paint a mural with a message that violates your deepest beliefs. This bill prevents the government from violating people’s dignity by forcing them to act or speak contrary to their religious convictions. It does not grant license for just anything at all.
For example, a Jewish caterer shouldn’t be forced to serve pork sandwiches at a Christian wedding on Saturday just because the couple asks for them. And a religious photographer shouldn’t be required to use her creative talents to promote the message of an atheist group.
In fact, we at Alliance Defending Freedom supported the right of a California photographer to refuse to photograph our own staff because she disagrees with our views. We supported the right of New Mexico hairstylist Antonio Darden to refuse to cut Gov. Susana Martinez’s hair because she supports marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We simply want the same for Arizona businesses who don’t want to be forced to violate their beliefs either. That’s a far cry from what the bill’s detractors are telling you.
It’s a shame we even need a bill like this in America. But the increasing use of government coercion to threaten and punish its own citizens has made it necessary. Without this bill, attacks on freedom like we’ve seen in New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, Kentucky, Hawaii, and other states become real possibilities in Arizona.
While numerous states have had the wisdom to adopt such laws, other states have not had the foresight of Arizona’s legislators and have suffered the consequences. That’s why SB 1062 is good law. If you believe in freedom…oppose discrimination…and you don’t want the government to be able to force you to participate in events or express ideas that violate your beliefs, you should support this bill.
Kellie Fiedorek is litigation counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that has defended marriage and religious liberty in courts throughout the U.S.