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Public Opinion, Businesses May Sway AZ Governor to Veto "Religious Freedom" Bill

by Mac Vanandel, published
Once again, Arizona is back in the headlines, and once again, it's caused a national uproar.

As the same-sex marriage debate continues to snowball in the public square, the Grand Canyon state now waits to see whether or not Governor Jan Brewer will sign the controversial 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act'.

Supporters of the law say that it only strengthens existing laws and seeks to ensure everyone's religious freedoms are protected against religious discrimination. Opponents of the law, however, assert that the law is a catalyst for discrimination against gays and lesbians, and some have even nicknamed it, 'The Right To Refuse Service Act.'

While proponents argue that businesses should not have to engage in something that violates their religious beliefs, the opposition argues that businesses have no right to discriminate against people in public venues.

The bill creates protections for businesses and corporations against lawsuits for denying service based on sincere religious beliefs. According to ABC15, such a defense can be used in court if 1. The person's actions or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief. 2. The person's religious belief is sincerely held. 3. The state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person's religious beliefs.

A similar legislation proposal recently failed to pass the Senate in Maine, and efforts to pass similar measures are currently stalled in Idaho, Ohio, and Kansas.

Thus far, both the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral have spoken out in opposition to the bill, and both of Arizona's U.S. senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, are calling for the governor to veto the bill, tweeting out to their followers:

I hope Governor Brewer will veto #SB1062 — John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 24, 2014


As of Monday, three GOP senators who voted for the bill are now also calling for the governor to veto it.

Many businesses and business leaders are worried that if the law is passed it will have the same kind of backlash as the Immigration bill, SB 1070, had back in 2010, which greatly hurt the tourism sector in Arizona. Recent reports from the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association have already shown that many people are now canceling or threatening to cancel their trips to the state.

In a letter sent to Brewer, James Lundy, GPEC Chairman, and Barry Broome, CEO of Alliance Bank of Arizona, raise strong concerns about the impact the bill could have:

With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world's stage. This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Phoenix Leadership Industry also released a statement on the bill, saying:

as leaders in the business community, we cannot support measures that could expose our businesses to litigation, nor do we want to send a message that our state is anything but an open and attractive place for visitors
Though Arizona is now being labelled by many as "anti-gay" over the legislation, a Rocky Mountain poll revealed last spring that 55 percent of Arizonans now support same-sex marriage -- just 5 years after they voted to create a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman only.

In 2010, Brewer signed SB 1070 largely to throw her conservative base a bone. This time, however, she does not have to worry about re-election. Throughout her times as governor, Brewer has been very close and friendly to the business community and with such strong business opposition to the bill, many speculate she will veto the bill.

With Arizona's economy expected to begin gaining tremendous momentum the last thing it needs is an even more tarnished brand, fleeing businesses, and a boycott on the state.

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