By Cathi Herrod, President, Center for Arizona Policy
One of the most foundational aspects of being American is the freedom to exercise your religious beliefs, to worship who and how you choose. It is to live and work according to your faith, free from being forced to choose between your faith and your livelihood.
Our Founding Fathers fled religious persecution and experienced the heavy hand of governmental coercion in the most sacred area of life. Because of that, they enshrined into the U.S. Constitution an American’s right to, not only believe, but to exercise those beliefs. Further, they protected us from the government establishing a particular religion or belief.
Nearly 230 years after those protections were knit into the fabric of our country through the Bill of Rights, opponents are doing their best to unravel them. Daily, I witness in America a new level of hostility toward people of faith.
Two recent examples played out at the Capitol this week.
1) HB 2648 clarifies that houses of worship and religious organizations are essential, and should be treated as other essential businesses, especially during a public crisis like the pandemic.
Here is a sample of the responses from those opposed:
“HB 2648 is a radical piece of legislation that would let religious organizations off the hook for almost any violation of any law at any time. Under HB 2648, religious organizations could claim immunity from criminal prosecution for the abuse of children that occurs in connection with religious activities or rituals. It could also result in a patient losing the right to sue a religious hospital for medically negligent or reckless care that was provided based on the hospital’s religious beliefs. HB 2648 would also allow corporations that claim a religious purpose to evade important worker protection, not comply with non- discrimination laws, deny their employees’ critical healthcare, and evade important civil and criminal laws that protect the public from fraud, abuse, and discrimination.” -Arizona ACLU
“HB2648 gives extreme legal immunity to religious groups … This “Trojan horse” bill supposedly protects religious institutions from discrimination. But … the bill’s wild definition of “discrimination” and excessively broad language create loopholes in which religious entities can ignore any law they don’t like. And it gives them the power to sue you if you try to seek justice.” – Secular Coalition of Arizona
“The bill allows organizations under the guise of religion, to abuse children and deny abuse victims their day in court.”-Senator Martin Quezada
“Some religions justify beating women, or marrying multiple wives, or marrying elderly men to children… or allow prostitution, or the surgical removal of body parts.” – Dianne Post, The National Organization of Women (NOW)
“Stop Christian nationalism! Our first freedom is not religious liberty. It’s freedom of not having tyrants legislate religious supremacy, making slaves of the sovereign people, who cannot debate God’s law and plan.” – Request To Speak (RTS) entry
I assure you, HB 2648 allows for none of this. It safeguards conduct protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. It doesn’t give religious organizations immunity from harming someone any more than the Free Exercise Clause does. Everyone must comply with state laws, even when they are exercising their religion – as long as the law applies to everyone, generally, and does not target religion. This bill simply codifies into state law recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings to ensure Arizona houses of worship are not discriminated against or treated differently than other businesses and organizations during a state of emergency.
Senator J.D. Mesnard called out the hyperbole during a committee hearing, saying,
“It doesn’t allow all these “host of horribles” that [churches] can just do whatever … I guess you can go out and commit mass murder on the basis of religious belief and they’re going to suggest that that is protected? That’s ludicrous.”
HB 2648 did pass out of the Senate Government Committee with a 5-3 vote.
2) HB 2575 allows clergy to visit dying patients in the hospital, even during a health crisis like the pandemic.
Here is a sample of the responses from those opposed:
“It privileges religious people over non-religious people, and excludes atheists.” – Tory Roberg, Secular Coalition of Arizona
“It echoes language used to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ people & other protected groups under the guise of religious liberty! OPPOSE!” – RTS entry
“Discrimination disguised as religious liberty should not continue.” – RTS entry
“Don’t give clergy privileges during a pandemic. Gods do not protect people from contagion.” – RTS entry
Again, I can assure you, the retorts are completely unfounded, even aimless. This bill has nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity. Still, that seems to be the battle cry for every issue supporting religious freedom.
HB 2575 did pass out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with a 5-2 vote.
The hostile response to simple bills that protect basic religious exercise should awaken us to the real dangers of losing what we hold dear. A recent op-ed speaks with disgust about those of faith, and calls our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom, “Christian Nationalists.”
We see it, too, on a national level, in the Equality Act, in President Biden’s Executive Order redefining human sexuality, and so much more. But lately, as evidenced above, the hostility to religion is no longer couched in covert rhetoric. It’s overt, unapologetic, and aimed at gutting the centuries old foundation of the free exercise of religion.
But we won’t make it easy for them. Standing in defense of our cherished First Amendment freedoms is a top priority at CAP. Both bills move on, and we will keep you posted on their progress. You can follow all CAP-supported bills on our BILL TRACKER.
In honor of religious freedom, we chose to release part one of a two-part series podcast discussing how bringing together the shepherds of the church and the shepherds of the government can change lives and communities. Click on the picture below to listen: