Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, under intense public pressure, vetoed Senate Bill 1062, a religious freedom bill that had been “egregiously misrepresented,” according to a coalition of law professors who wrote in defense of the bill. The bill sought to clarify what was originally intended in an earlier bill, enacted in 1999, The Arizona Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which I drafted, and I also chaired a coalition that supported the bill. Although enacted by strong majorities in the legislature, businesses pushed hard against SB 1062. The NFL threatened to pull the Super Bowl out of Arizona if Brewer signed it. Among the false charges: that it gave businesses carte blanche to refuse services to gays.
As a result of the Arizona experience, it has now become difficult if not impossible to enact any religious freedom protections. This episode may be seen in the long view of history as symptomatic of the end of Protestantism.
Civil and religious liberties in America, and globally, owe an enormous debt to Protestantism. Reformation doctrines of Sola Scriptura, the priesthood of all believers—the basic premise of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith—all placed the emphasis on the rights and responsibilities of individual conscience before God. Eventually, in a cultural context where considerable religious diversity existed, the American colonies determined to secure protections for civil and religious freedoms in their new Constitution.
It has now become difficult if not impossible to enact any religious freedom protections.
Today, our legal and social cultures are postmodern, and definitely, post-Protestant. The academic efforts to secure human rights and civil liberties on a purely secular basis are flawed, as I recently discovered at an academic conference on the subject at University of San Diego Law School. When the Protestant foundations are cast off, and religious belief is seen not merely as a benign “opiate of the masses,” but as harmful superstition, the academics are hard pressed to figure out how to protect religious freedom at all, or whether it deserves protection.
Which brings us back to the public outcry over efforts to secure religious freedom in Arizona. The religious freedom debates of the late 1990s clearly discussed the civil rights issues, and it was understood that state RFRA bills would apply when civil rights laws were invoked to restrict religious freedom. The New Mexico Supreme Court abandoned that consensus interpreting a RFRA bill nearly identical to Arizona’s to virtually nullify its effective protection for religious freedom. Arizona’s bill was intended to clarify the original bill’s intent, and to further protect businesses. But opponents cried foul, and falsely claimed the bill would undermine “civil rights” and permit businesses to refuse service to gays. Arizona law does not protect gays in the first place, so these claims were fraudulent! Businesses do not prosper by turning away customers, and no examples of such abuses were cited, because there were none.
Protecting religious freedom protects everyone. Some examples will illustrate: a gay wedding photographer may refuse to photograph an event for Westboro Baptist Church, which espouses ideas hateful to gays; a black printer may refuse to print brochures for the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group; a Jewish caterer need not serve pork, or serve a Christian wedding on Saturday. Public accommodations laws are designed to insure that everyone has access to basic services. Such laws need not compel service providers to sacrifice their own religious freedoms and convictions. The law should strive for a “live and let live” balance that protects the rights of all people.
Protecting religious freedom protects everyone.
Sadly, today’s legal, legislative and social climates are frosty to religious freedom claims, which will most often be trumped by “equality” claims. Where this will lead in the next decade is anyone’s guess. Religious freedom is playing defense. The Church State Council has served to protect and defend religious freedom for 50 years. The Council’s continued vigilance is needed now, more than ever. Your participation is also required. Be informed, get involved. Go to www.churchstate.org or our Facebook page.