7 Myths About Arizona's Religious Freedom Law

7 Myths About Arizona's Religious Freedom Law


On Wednesday evening, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) deliberately misread Arizona SB 1062 — and, out of a misguided sense of political correctness, proceeded to veto it. “My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona,” Brewer said, in a massive cop-out avoiding the central issue of protection of religious freedom.

Brewer stated that the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.” Of course, her veto of the bill is even more divisive, given that it now sends the message that it is open season on private religious business owners who wish to live out their religious principles throughout their lives, not just within the four walls of their churches or homes.

She continued by stating that the bill was too broadly worded, although she could not point to a specific provision that would allow for additional discrimination currently barred by Arizona law. She also suggested that Arizona’s religious population does not face a threat of lawsuit or government action based on practice of religion in the workplace, overlooking the fact that such cases have cropped up repeatedly throughout the United States over the course of the last two years.


This week, controversy has broken out over Arizona’s law protecting the right of religious businessowners to reject service to particular customers. The law came hard on the heels of a series of outrageous court decisions finding that private businesses could be forced, in violation of their religion, to serve events such as same-sex weddings.

Cowardly Republicans including former presidential candidates Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have been running headlong from the law, suggesting that it is somehow granting the moral okay to discrimination to recognize Americans’ First Amendment rights. They have been joined by outraged Democrats and leftists who lie about the nature of the law and suggest that without government intervention, America will be rife with roving bands of Christians looking to bludgeon gays in the streets.

Here, then, are 7 myths the left has told about the Arizona religious freedom law – and why they’re myths:

Arizona’s Law Loosens Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians in The State.

Adam Serwer of MSNBC says that “‘religious freedom laws could be a license to discrimination.” That’s nonsense. Arizona state law has no provision currently barring discrimination against gays and lesbians. So what does the law do? It actually narrows the law with regard to supposed discrimination against gays and lesbians. The law only provides religious people with an excuse to pick and choose clients if they can prove actual religious adherence (which, by the way, should offend atheists, who should have the same First Amendment right to associate as religious Americans).

The law also makes clear what should be clear from the text of the First Amendment: religious practice is not restricted to your church or your home. Individuals operating businesses have a right to act in accordance with their religion at work. The law also states that religious businessowners can defend lawsuits using the law against other private parties, not merely government prosecution.

This is the essence of American religious freedom. The disgusting attempt to use government to run roughshod over that religious freedom is blatantly unconstitutional. The law, which simply reinforces that, should be unobjectionable to anyone who actually believes in freedom of religion. Unfortunately, many on the left simply do not.

The Government’s Recognition of a Right to Religious Practice “Allows” Discrimination.

“I strongly support religious freedom,” Kansas state Rep. Patricia Sloop (D) explained with regard to a similar law being considered in her state, “but this bill is not about religious freedom. In my opinion, this is about legalized discrimination, and I cannot vote in support of this.”

The logic here is deeply flawed. My right to religious practice does not spring from the government; therefore, it is not up to the government to “allow” me to do anything with regard to my practice of religion. The question is whether government has a right to invade my religious practice in the name of some majority-determined or court-determined or regulator-determined social good. If the answer is yes on any sort of broad level, the Constitution is rendered meaningless. Rights can be balanced with communal needs, and are generally done so through the mechanism of the market. Once you hand the club of social enforcement to the government, however, rights are no longer balanced with communal goods. Communal goods win. Individuals lose.

The right to practice religion is not unique in this respect. My right to associate does not spring from the government; the government’s protection of that right – not violation of that right – is the purpose for the institution of government. My right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure is not subject to the government’s decision that suspicion of racism justifies violation of that right.

Allowing Private Businesses to Discriminate Among Customers Is Like Jim Crow.

On Tuesday evening, NBC’s Brian Williams made this comparison explicit, stating, “Good evening. It’s just one state out of our 50, but tonight what’s happening in Arizona is being compared by some to the epic battles this nation has fought over lunch counters, separate drinking fountains and restrooms.” Outspoken gay activist and former actor George Takei has called Arizona a “Jim Crow state” thanks to the law. Even Fox News’ Andrea Tantaros has jumped on the bandwagon, stating, “I don’t know why you want to bring Jim Crow laws back to the forefront for homosexuals,” prompting host Martha MacCallum to state, “I mean, that’s exactly what it sounds like.”

No, it doesn’t. Private discrimination may be nasty and evil, but it is not and was not Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws mandated segregation in public areas. Here, for example, is Alabama’s Jim Crow law with regard to those “lunch counters:”

It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment.

State-compelled discrimination is not the same as private citizens discriminating.

As to suggestions that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be overthrown by the act, the supremacy clause of the US Constitution prevents any state from superseding federal law.

Immorality and Illegality Should Be Identical.

Many opponents of the bill have argued, in absurd fashion, that if you support the right of religious Americans to discriminate, you therefore support discrimination. That line of argument is as wrong as it is dangerous. You can believe that something is immoral and yet agree that it should not be illegal. I think that Mein Kampf is an evil book. But I don’t think we should ban it in the United States, because I think people have a right to print it and read it. Does that mean I’m an advocate for the dissemination of Mein Kampf?

Ironically, this line of argumentation cuts against gay rights. If we now believe that anything the majority believes to be immoral should be illegal, regardless of countervailing rights, what exactly is the problem with anti-sodomy laws? Where exactly is the objection to segregation by this twisted logic?

Of course, we don’t feel that way in the United States. We believe that people have rights to activity of which we don’t approve. Otherwise, we’re living in a tyranny in which we elect the tyrants.

Race and Homosexuality Are Analogous.

Any analogy between refusing to service same-sex weddings to refusing to serve black customers is fatally flawed. Race is an immutable characteristic; homosexuality is only publicly known due to homosexual behavior. No matter how much you may be attracted to a member of the same sex, no one will ever know unless you choose to divulge that fact, or to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex. That means that discrimination against homosexuals would actually be discrimination against either homosexual activity, or against evidenceless perception of homosexuality. The former is entirely within the purview of religious morality (it should be and always has been my choice whether or not to participate in a gay wedding); the latter is entirely outside logic (if someone throws you out of his store because you wore a pink shirt, he’s a moron).

The same is not true for race. If you are black, you are black. Blackness is not behavior-linked, despite what some racists on the left may believe. That means that discrimination based on race is entirely morally unjustified in any religious universe. The same is not true of behavior; homosexual activity falls under a behavioral classification.

This distinction is vital, because we have decided (rightly) as a society that immutable characteristics should not be the basis for discrimination – but we continue to believe that behavior can be the basis for discrimination. It would be wrong for you to refuse me service based on my last name being Shapiro. It would not be wrong, however, for you to refuse to photograph my future son’s religious circumcision if you are an anti-circumcision activist. The same holds true with regard to race versus homosexuality.

America Is a Nasty Place.

If an alien were to land on earth today and watch the media coverage of the Arizona law, he would likely believe that the American people are incredibly homophobic, and that only the massive bulwark of government prevents Americans from routinely lynching gays and lesbians. That, at least, is the implication the media look to make when they label America on the verge of another Jim Crow era – the idea is that religious Americans can’t wait to erect separate straight and gay sections of their cigar bars.

That’s bull. No business has ever used Arizona’s current religious freedom law to defend against charges of discrimination. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians, while heinous and evil, are thankfully remarkably rare. In 2012, according to FBI statistics, there were a grand total of 1,376 hate crimes based on sexual-orientation bias. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, there are approximately 9 million LGBT people in the country. By way of contrast, there are approximately 6.7 million Jews in America, and 836 Jews were victims of hate crimes in 2012. That means that approximately one out of every 6,540 LGBT people in the United States was victimized by a hate crime in 2012; one out of every 8,014 Jews in the United States was victimized by a hate crime in 2012. America is not an anti-Semitic country; America is not a gay-bashing country.

But it is in the interest of those in the gay rights movement to continue to maintain that America is just moments away from an anti-gay outbreak. Such feelings prompt government action to crackdown on religious opponents of homosexuality. Which is, of course, what this entire debate is about.

The Left Will Leave Your Church Alone.

Even those who oppose the Arizona law maintain that they simply want individual religious businessowners to face a crackdown by the state. But that’s patently false. What, exactly, would be the justification for stating that a business, which is privately held and for-profit, would have to service same-sex weddings, but that a church, which receives non-profit privileges from the state, would not? Where is the left’s internal logic? If a religious person – a person who by definition acts in accordance with religious values in the entirety of his or her life, not just inside the four walls of the church – can be forced to violate religious values, why not a pastor?

A religious person is a religious institution. Anyone who fails to understand that has never met a religious person. Religion starts at home, not in the church. It reaches to businesses, not just to the pews. The left knows that. And that’s why the left will not stop.

Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.


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