Controversy Surrounds Arizona Bill

Jim Nagle, Writer

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A heated debate has erupted over a controversial bill that Arizona politicians are hoping to pass. The bill, if actually passed, would allow businesses to deny service to anybody, provided that person violated the religious beliefs of the business in any way. According to the bill, “a person whose religious exercise is burdened may assert that violation as a claim or a defense in a judicial proceeding.” The bill essentially blocks courts from intruding on a person’s religious beliefs and in practice it shouldn’t apply to one singular group. Based on past precedent however, (Arizona passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2008), it seems fairly obvious that this law is intended to prevent same-sex couples from frequenting businesses of their choice.

As of now, the bill has not yet been passed; meaning it is not yet law and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has given no indication on whether she will pass or veto the bill. Brewer has five days to make a decision or the bill will automatically pass and she is under heavy pressure by supporters of the bill and its opposition. The bill’s supporters, led by Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough, claim that the bill is not meant to discriminate against gay men and women, and is merely intended to preserve religious freedom and maintain the separation of church and state. According to the opposition however; the bill is “state-sanctioned discrimination” and is very clearly targeting same-sex couples. Several house Republicans have come out against the bill including Representative Steve Orr who said, “I disagree with the bill. I think it’s a bad bill.”

While the bill is controversial for a reason; religion has and likely always will be a tenuous subject, its exact purpose must be kept in mind when forming an opinion. The bill doesn’t allow storeowners to deny service to anybody they please, it merely allows them to cite religion as a defense if taken to court for that reason. Essentially, if a restaurant owner refuses to serve a gay couple and is subsequently sued by that couple, he can claim in court that he or she is being discriminated against based off his religious beliefs, and have the case thrown out. In theory, this is completely legal as the Constitution explicitly states that; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The opposition argues however that denying service on the basis of sexuality, regardless of whether your religion supports that lifestyle or not, is discrimination in and of itself. It is at this point then that the bill becomes tricky to support or defend as either way one side will claim that they are being discriminated against. There really aren’t any good outcomes for this case and regardless of Governor Brewer’s decision, controversy will ensue.

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