From the moment of this writing and as minutes tick by, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the Arizona State legislature’s bill, known as SB 1062. For those who haven’t been following on Facebook and Daily Kos, SB 1062 is a Jim Crow law that would in effect allow businesses to discriminate based on the owners’ religious beliefs.
The key provisions of 1062 were that it: 1. Expands the definition of exercise of religion to specifically include both the practice and observance of religion. 2. Expands the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity. 3. Changes the terminology within the prohibition of burdening a person’s exercise of religion to apply to state action instead of government. 4. Defines state action as any action by the government or the implementation or application of any law, including state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether the implementation or action is made or attempted to be made by the government or nongovernmental persons. 5. Specifies that a free exercise of religion claim or defense may be asserted in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.
The spirit of the law was originally to protect vendors in the wedding industry (bakers, caterers) from lawsuits for refusing service to same-sex couples. But the law’s generalized language, written in part as an attempt not to LOOK directly discriminatory and anti-LGBT, had unanticipated problems. As written, the bill appeared to legalize discrimination in all its forms, allowing anyone to discriminate against everyone else based on their religious beliefs.
If the bill was signed into law: A Hindu Brahmin doctor can refuse to provide medical service to patients who eat meat, as this is against his beliefs. A Muslim lawyer can refuse to take your case if you drink alcohol or eat pork. A Sikh teacher might refuse to teach your kids, if they violate some tenet of the Sikh faith.
A Jewish cop might refuse to help you should you be a victim of a crime, should you be violating the Sabbath. A Jain plumber and contractor might refuse to come out and fix your water main breakage should you not be a vegan complying with his strict Jain principles. An extreme Taliban-like individual (I won’t call them a Muslim, as it’s absolutely a violation of the Koran) can discriminate against women and children for just being alone in a public place. A white supremacist might interpret the Bible to say black people are less than a human. Yes, why shouldn’t he be allowed to return to “No n*** allowed”? (list courtesy of Daily Kos).
This law, along with similar laws vetoed and soundly rejected in appeals court as unconstitutional, are just one of many “religious freedom” laws proliferating around the country, and will more than likely be shot down by the federal court or the SCOTUS, if they even get that far. As of yesterday, Ohio has pulled back similar legislation, in light of Arizona’s veto.
The swift backlash against the bill, passed last week by the state’s legislature, started with the LGBT community, and the state chamber of commerce, and branched upward all the way to the U.S. Senate. Arizona’s Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain both strongly urged the governor’s veto, fearing that the fierce reaction against the bill and the firestorm following would have an adverse affect on the Republican Party come mid-term elections in November 2014. LGBT advocate George Takei wrote, calling for a national boycott of Arizona should the bill be signed into law. And of course all of this was covered by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
But you have to laugh at the irony: the biggest shiv to SB 1067 came from, of all places, the National Football League, which reconsidered its scheduling of the 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona in light of this bill.
The Super Bowl is an economic bonanza for the tourist and service industries anywhere it goes, and would be an economic coup for the state. Given Missouri defensive player Michael Sam’s coming out a few weeks ago as his eligibility for the NFL draft came up, the legislation — a new weapon in the culture wars between Christianists and gays — became a landmine potentially chaining the feet of Arizona’s economy and muddying the waters for the NFL, which after Sam’s coming out, is struggling to carefully accept and embrace gay players in the NFL mainstream. Signing the bill would not just make the LGBT community rise up in arms nationally, but it would disrupt the current and delicate political dance by the holiest of holies of American machismo — professional football.
Such were the thoughts probably going through Jan Brewer’s head as she busily met in emergency session with legislators and business leaders from her state yesterday, discussing the ramifications to the state and its economy should SB 1067 be signed. Using religious beliefs as justification for letting prejudice become law has unintended consequences. Brewer could use a little study of James Madison, 4th President of the United States, who knew something about this two centuries ago when he said, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
I’m sure Madison would not have guessed the reaction to this latest iteration to legalize intolerance would be so widespread across cultural and political landscape of the the U.S. Nor as theatrical, or as idiotic. But did he, in his vision of the United States, ever envision Arizona or, for that matter, Texas?
James Madison must be tossing and turning, even in the afterlife. What kind of country are we now when a principle tenet of our democracy is saved at the last minute by worries about the bottom line and a football game?