The Arizona Catholic Conference has lamented the veto of Arizona religious freedom bill S.B. 1062, noting the “extremely intense, if not misleading rhetoric” surrounding the bill. “Religious liberty is an important concept upon which our country was founded,” the conference said Feb. 27. “Unfortunately, however, threats to religious liberty have become very real in courts across the country and are seemingly on the rise all around the world.” The conference said it is “strongly in support of religious liberty” and “most grateful” to those willing to defend it. At the same time, it stressed that supporting religious liberty “is consistent with our support for the human dignity of all people and does not diminish our opposition to all forms of unjust discrimination.” The two-page Arizona bill would have clarified that religious freedom protections belong to individuals, associations, corporations, and other business organizations. It would have allowed individuals to use claims of burdens on their religious exercise as a defense in judicial actions not brought by the government, Politico reports. The bill had passed both the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate. However, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Feb. 26. She said it “does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.” In a Feb. 21 statement, the Arizona Catholic Conference had said the bill would provide an “important update” to Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and ensure better protections. It had encouraged Arizonans to ask Gov. Brewer to “continue her support of religious liberty” by signing the bill into law. The bill drew heavy opposition from activist groups that depicted it as “anti-gay.” In recent months, religious freedom advocates have raised concerns that individuals and businesses could face legal penalties for acting on their religious objections to cooperating in or recognizing same-sex relationships. However, supporters noted that the bill did not mention gay individuals or same-sex ceremonies, nor did it offer businesses license to discriminate for religious reasons. Rather, it would have clarified ambiguities regarding who is covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Three Republican state senators who had initially voted for the bill later withdrew their support. Former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain supported a governor’s veto, as did Arizona U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Newt Gingrich. Calls to veto the bill also came from major businesses such as Apple, AT&T and American Airlines, Politico reports. The National Football League said it was “following the issue,” prompting some claims that the 2015 Super Bowl could be moved from Arizona if the bill passed. Gov. Brewer in her veto message said she had not heard of an Arizona example of a business owner’s religious freedom being violated. She said the bill is “broadly worded” and “could result in unintended and negative consequences.” She told the legislation’s supporters that she understands that “long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before” and that society is “undergoing many dramatic changes.” However, she said the bill “has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve” and could “divide Arizona.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, criticized Brewer’s veto. “This measure should have been a political no-brainer and only went down because people either chose to ignore the plain language of the bill or refused to read it altogether,” he said Feb. 26. He said the bill “bars government discrimination against religious exercise.” By vetoing the bill, he said, “Gov. Brewer is saying she supports government discrimination against people’s religious freedoms.” According to Perkins, the intent of the bill was to state that “individuals do not have to trade their religious freedom for entrance into public commerce.” He said the proposed law would have protected Christian wedding vendors who cannot affirm a same-sex “marriage” in good conscience as well as businesses like Hobby Lobby opposed to being required to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs in their health plans. “Unfortunately, at a moment of testing, Gov. Jan Brewer yielded to the cultural bullies and their frenzy-driven opposition instead of consulting the facts,” he said.
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