US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Cooler heads prevail on Arizona's controversial 'religious liberty' bill

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Arizona's state legislature set off a firestorm last week when it passed a bill (SB 1062) that would allow any business owner to refuse services to any potential customer on the basis of "sincerely held" religious beliefs. Backlash against the bill--which critics deemed "anti-gay" legislation--became a national news story over the course of the past week, with a major outcry against the proposed law. Three state senators who originally backed the bill got cold feet, changing their minds and calling for a veto by Gov. Jan Brewer. Even former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, via Twitter, publicly said the bill should be thrown out.

Brewer apparently got the message, as she officially announced her decision on Wednesday to veto the bill, obviously seeing how the national debate over its passage was reflecting poorly on her state. "“Senate Bill 1062 ... could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want,” Brewer said in a press conference. “Let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.”

Brewer also noted something that CNN's Anderson Cooper highlighted earlier this week in a rather contentious interview with Arizona state senator Al Melvin--the fact that the bill addresses a problem that has yet to actually occur in Arizona (although it has happened not far away in New Mexico). Said Brewer, “Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”

So where does Arizona go from here? Surely proponents of the bill aren't going to give up, much like in other states where similar bills have failed. But I agree with Brewer--let's have a civil, and hopefully productive, discussion about balancing the rights of all citizens that avoids the ugliness that often permeates our political discourse. The furor over Arizona's bill did little to protect religious liberty, and the last thing anyone needs is a repeat of the past week's events.