Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday she has vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses, such as wedding photographers and wedding cake bakers, to assert their religious beliefs in rejecting participation in same-sex wedding events.
Homosexual activists and religious freedom advocates both ramped up pressure on Brewer after the state’s Republican-led legislature approved the bill last week.
Brewer said she made the decision she knew was right for her state.
“I call them as I see them, despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd,” she said, calling the bill “broadly worded” and saying it could have unintended consequences.
Brewer said she’d weighed the arguments on both sides.
“To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes,” she said. “However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.
“Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.”
Officials with the Alliance Defending Freedom, who just hours before had reported that an Arizona business owner and her children were threatened with death for supporting the legislation, said they will plan to pursue court fights over Arizonans who face discrimination because of the failure of the bill.
Senior counsel Doug Napier said, “Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed. Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona. Even though the battle has become more difficult, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend any Arizonan who suffers the indignity of religious discrimination.”
The bill would have clarified the state’s 1999 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, bringing it into conformity with federal law.
The ADF earlier had released a copy of a letter addressed to Brewer from a long list of top law professors, encouraging her to sign the bill.
The professors said, “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.”
The professors, who describe themselves in the letter as Republican, Democrat, religious, not religious, supporters of same-sex marriage and opponents of same, noted that nine of their number believe the bill should be signed while two were unsure.
“But all of us believe that many criticisms of the Arizona bill are deeply misleading,” they wrote.
Signers include Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard, Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia Law School, Michael W. McConnell of Stanford, Helen M. Alvare of George Mason, Thomas C. Berg of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, Carl H. Esbeck of the University of Missouri, Richard W. Garnett of Notre Dame, Christopher C. Lund of Wayne State, Mark S. Scarberry of Pepperdine, Gregor C. Sisk of the University of St. Thomas and Robin Fretwell Wilson, of the University of Illinois.
They pointed out that the U.S. government and 18 states already have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, and another dozen states interpret their state constitutions to provide those protections.
“They say that before the government can burden a person’s religious exercise, the government has to show a compelling justification,” the letter explained. “That standard makes sense. We should not punish people for practicing their religions unless we have a very good reason.”
Arizona’s law is 15 years old, the national law is more than 20, and “there have been relatively few cases.”
“If you knew little about the Arizona RFRA until the current controversy, that is because it has had no disruptive effect Arizona.”
The current legislation, SB 1062, would have provided that people are covered by a defense when their 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 they violate their religion, the letter explains.
“But nothing in the amendment would say who wins in either of these cases. The person invoking RFRA would still have to prove that he had a sincere religious belief and that state or local government was imposing a substantial burden … And the government, or the person … could still show that compliance with the law was necessary to serve a compelling government interest,” the professors wrote.
“Arizona’s RFRA, like all RFRAs, leaves resolution of these issues to the courts … First, it is impossible for legislatures to foresee all the potential conflicts between the diverse religious practices of the many faiths practiced in Arizona … and when passions are aroused on all sides, as they have been in this case, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for legislatures to make principled decisions about whether to make exceptions for unpopular religious practices.”
They continued, “So to be clear: SB 1062 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 … 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.”
One of the intents of the bill was to head off legal conflicts such as have happened in other states, where business owners are fined, threatened, discriminated against or even put out of business because of their faith.
Specifically, in Washington and Colorado, bakeries have been sued for refusing to use their artistry to promote same-sex marriage. A photographer in New Mexico was put in the bull’s-eye by homosexual activists for the same reason.
WND has reported the most recent fight to develop over religious rights was in Colorado, where a state appointee overruled a business owner’s religious faith and ordered him to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex duo.
The state’s constitution doesn’t recognize “same-sex marriage,” but officials with the Alliance Defending Freedom said it simply was the government imposing “a new belief system upon [bakery owner] Jack [Phillips], one that is fundamentally at odds with his conscience and his liberty.”
The complaint to the state’s Civil Rights Division was filed by two homosexuals who wanted Phillips to provide them with a wedding cake.
Phillips offered to provide other products but, citing his own Christian beliefs, declined to produce a message on a wedding cake that conflicted with his faith.
Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer, however, ordered Phillips, on pain of fines or even jail time, to violate his faith and provide the wedding cake to homosexuals Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
Now ADF has asked the state to correct the “erroneous” ruling, filing a notice of appeal and petition for review to the commission.
Spencer was wrong, ADF contends, because “the ALJ’s recommendation that respondents ‘[c]ease and desist from discriminating against complainants and other same-sex couples by refusing to sell them wedding cakes or any other product respondents would provide to heterosexual couples’ is overbroad and exceeds the scope of relief authorized [under state law.].”
ADF said the issue in the case cuts to the basics of freedom in America.
“America was founded on the fundamental freedom of all citizens to live and work without fear of government punishment,” said Nicolle Martin, lead counsel in the case.
Phillips explained to WND there are cakes for other circumstances he also would refuse to make.
“If a couple were to come in and ask me to do an erotic cake for a wedding, I would refuse to do that as well,” he said. “These are my personal standards taken from Jesus Christ and the Bible.”
Spencer’s ruling said Phillips’ constitutional rights are secondary, because otherwise the “cost to society” isn’t considered. He granted homosexuals a special standard.