When I survey the outrage surrounding Arizona's SB 1062 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), I am reminded of the oft-repeated phrase "perception is reality".
However, in this case, is it seems that deception has become our new reality.
When reading any of the flurry of news articles and opinion pieces on this piece of legislation, you would think the bill was crafted specifically to protect bigoted business owners desiring to discriminate against gay people, safeguarding their right to deny homosexuals service at their establishments.
As Daily Beast columnist Kirsten Powers has said, a new Jim Crow for gays.
Rachel Held Evans, a popular Evangelical Christian commentator and author, threw more gasoline on the fire of misinformation, lumping the Arizona legislation in with foreign bills that criminalize homosexuality and claiming that..
Here in the U.S., several states—most recently Kansas and Arizona— have been considering bills that would ensure the protection of businesses that refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
This is, of course, false.
The key parts of the proposed amendment to the existing RFRA are twofold: expanding the term "persons" to include individuals, associations, partnerships, corporations, churches, religious assemblies and institutions, estates, trusts, foundations and other legal entities, and ensuring that such "persons" would be able to invoke a violation of their religious beliefs as a defense if they were sued thereof.
For example, if a faith-based bed and breakfast denied a single room to an unmarried couple, or a Christian owned hotel allowed Bibles in dresser drawers, or a Christian photographer said no to photographing a same-sex wedding and was sued because of this, the defendant could invoke a violation of his right to free exercise of religion and have his day in court.
That's it. That's what all the clamor is about.
No one is talking about keeping gay people from religious owned businesses.
We are talking about business owners being allowed operate in a manner that comports with their faith.
This is not, I repeat, not a license to do whatever you want in the name of your faith principles or a guarantee that the person invoking the violation of the First Amendment will win in court.
As the Christian Post notes:
A RFRA law, either state or federal, does not give anyone the license to do anything they want based upon their religious beliefs. Rather, it says what needs to happen for the government to take away someone's religious freedom. RFRA provides citizens with religious freedom protections, but that does not mean that everyone who claims their religious freedom is violated will win a court case using RFRA as their defense.
No business has ever successfully used RFRA, either a state RFRA or the federal RFRA, to defend their right to not serve gays. In fact, no business has even been before a court claiming to have that right.
Furthermore, a bipartisan group of law professors from across the country have testified that the bill has been "egregiously misrepresented".
This letter must be read by anyone who wants to make an informed opinion on the law, so I've reproduced the most relevant portions:
SB1062, which amends Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is on your desk for signature. The bill has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics. We write because we believe that you should make your decision on the basis of accurate information.
Some of us are Republicans; some of us are Democrats. Some of us are religious; some of us are not. Some of us oppose same-sex marriage; some of us support it. Nine of the eleven signers of this letter believe that you should sign the bill; two are unsure. But all of us believe that many criticisms of the Arizona bill are deeply misleading.
SB1062 would amend the Arizona RFRA to address two ambiguities that have been the subject of litigation under other RFRAs. It would provide that people are covered when state or local government requires them to violate their religion in the conduct of their business, and it would provide that people are covered when sued by a private citizen invoking state or local law to demand that they violate their religion.
But nothing in the amendment would say who wins in either of these cases...
...So, to be clear: SB1062 does not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons. It says that business people can assert a claim or defense under RFRA, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision.
This could not be any clearer.
There is no provision for arbitrary discrimination under this amendment.
One wonders, then, how much, if any, of the hysteria surrounding the bill is based in reality.
In spite of the truth, I fully expect the bill to be vetoed.
The political cost for Jan Brewer would be far too high otherwise.
The Left, along with some Republicans, businesses, celebrities, and the NFL have "encouraged" the governor to veto the bill or face the consequences.
I, however, am relieved to see this amendment possibly become law as it is exactly what our country needs to restore the balance of power between the gay rights movements and people of Christian conscience.
If we are going to prevent our country from being torn apart at the seams, we need to see legislation like SB 1062 on the books.
Please encourage Governor Brewer via social media to sign the bill and, more importantly, do your part to fight the propaganda that makes it impossible to have an honest discussion about these important issues.