PHOENIX - A controversial bill passed by the Arizona Legislature has sparked conversation and debate across the nation.
What does the new bill change?
Senate Bill 1062 re-defines and expands the state's definition of "exercise of religion" and "state action" to protect businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits after denying services based on a sincere religious belief.
According to the bill, "A person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or a defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding."
The bill also establishes a set of needed guidelines for when this potential defense could be used in court:
- The person's action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief
- The person's religious belief is sincerely held
- The state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person's religious beliefs
Why are people upset?
The bill defines a "person" as "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization."
Opponents of the bill fear that the legislation would lead to businesses discriminating against people, such as those in same-sex unions, based solely on the owner's religious beliefs.
What do supporters of the bill say?
Cathi Herrod, President of the Center for Arizona Policy, an organization that supports the passing of the bill, says the bill "protects the religious freedom of every Arizonan."
In a statement released Saturday, Feb. 22, Herrod said, "It's a shame that we even need a bill like this in America. But growing hostility against freedom in our nation, and the increasing use of government to threaten and punish its own citizens, has made it necessary."
"I urge Governor Brewer to send a clear message to the country that in Arizona, everyone, regardless of their faith, will be protected in Arizona by signing SB1062," the statement said.
What happens now?
The Arizona State Legislature approved passage of SB1062 on Thursday, Feb. 20. Governor Jan Brewer now has five days to either sign the legislation into law or veto it.
What has Gov. Jan Brewer said about the bill?
Gov. Brewer was not in the state of Arizona when the legislation was passed, but in Washington D.C. She did issue a statement saying that she understands the bill is controversial and still needs to research it before making a final decision. She said she expects to make a decision by next week.
"I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don't work with," Brewer told CNN in Washington on Friday. "But I don't know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom."
On Sunday, Feb. 23, Brewer's spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said the bill has yet to be delivered to the Governor's desk. He said she is "keenly aware" of the amount of discussion surrounding the bill. One the bill reaches her desk, she will have through Saturday to either sign it or veto it.
Wilder said he "anticipates" that the Governor will reach a decision before then.
Who supported this bill?
Rep. Steve Yarbrough, Dist. 17, is the primary author of the SB1062. Reps. Nancy Barto, Dist. 15, and Bob Worsley, Dist. 25, both co-sponsored the bill.
The Legislature passed the bill Thursday, Feb. 20 with a 33-27 vote. You can view who voted in favor and against the bill on the Legislature's website .
Where can I read the bill for myself?
The Arizona Legislature keeps an online record of each bill presented during the course of a session. You can visit the Legislature's website and search for "SB1062" to pull up the bill's history.
Will the passing of SB1062 affect the state's hosting of Super Bowl XLIX?
The Super Bowl Committee has not released a statement regarding the legislation. However, Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council sent a letter to the governor saying, "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 threat of boycotts."