The Cost of Not Expanding Freedom

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062 last week, which is labeled "An Act Relating to the Free Exercise of Religion". It was passed seemingly in response to court cases in other states that mandate businesses to provide services for events they find violate their religious tenets, including the case of a baker in Colorado who was told he must provide wedding cakes for the weddings of gay couples. 

I have read claims likening this bill to the re-institution of Jim Crow laws, and the belief that this bill becoming law will usher in widespread discrimination against gays, and possibly other groups. People who support this bill state that it protects the religious freedom of business owners.

This situation reminds me of a not as well known controversy from about seven years ago. Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport would refuse service to people carrying alcohol, stating that transporting alcohol would violate their religious beliefs. The Metropolitan Airports Commission there even went so far as to impose a thirty day suspension of a cab driver's license if they refused to pick up a passenger for having alcohol, which was upheld by a state appeals court.

Honestly, I don't see the big deal in a cabbie at an airport refusing service, since there are usually a myriad of taxis waiting to transport passengers at airports and if one cabby refuses you, the next one is just as good. Even if the percentage of Muslims driving cabs in Minnesota is so high that some passengers with a bottle had to wait up to 20 minutes to find a cab willing to take them to their destination, is the time inconvenience for these people really any less egregious than the inconvenience the cab drivers suffered for having to transport the alcohol?

Almost everywhere you go, there are competing interests vying for your business. If one florist doesn't want to provide petunias for your party, go to the one next door or across town. There are plenty of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers to fulfill everybody's needs, so you shouldn't have to sue one to get what you want. I personally would not want to give my money to somebody who didn't want to serve me anyway, and I would be sure to tell all my friends, family and whatever random strangers will lend me an ear all about that business's disdainful lack of service.

I see the overarching principle at stake here as one of personal freedom. If the government forces a person or business into conducting any transaction, that is a violation of their personal rights. It is not even a matter of asserting a religious conviction, just a personal preference. This right of association is a personal right, and does not extend to the government itself, or governmental agencies and employees. While a priest can refuse to officiate at a gay wedding, a clerk of court cannot refuse to certify the marriage certificate in jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal.

Just as there are limits on the right to free speech, (I am sure you are all familiar with the old crowded theater trope by now,) there are limits to this freedom of service. While it is perfectly acceptable for a doctor to refuse perform abortions, he should not be allowed to withhold needed care for a woman because of complications from an abortion performed by another doctor, and an ambulance driver should not be allowed to deny transportation for any reason other than immediate personal safety. However, the general principle is that people should be left alone to choose who they associate with, whether for business or social reasons, without any government interference.

Not everybody believes that businesses have the right to deny service. There have been threatened boycotts of Arizona if this bill becomes law.

Allow that to sink in for a moment before I continue.

There are people who are threatening to boycott Arizona over this bill, and they don't find it to be a violation of logic.

People who want to boycott Arizona over SB 1062 are basically asserting their right (and it is undoubtedly their right) to decline doing business with or in the state because they find it morally wrong for the state to say its residents have the right to decline doing business with those they find whose actions are morally wrong.

The proposed boycott seems to have a good chance of keeping this bill from becoming law. In fact, because of the boycott threats, especially an implied threat from the NFL that the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played in Arizona in 2015, could have a change of venue if the bill becomes law, has influenced three members of the Arizona Senate to write a letter to Governor Jan Brewer asking that she veto the bill.

I have read the text of Arizona's SB 1062. Why is it so controversial? Reading the actual bill, I couldn't tell you. It does not substantially change the law in any way other than to clarify that the use of that particular part of the Arizona Revised Statutes (the state law) can be used in trials that do not involve the state, state agencies or subordinate governments (e.g. county governments). It also clarifies what a person must establish (which I read as a synonym for "prove") in order to invoke the statute. This is where I have to really question the purpose of even passing this bill. Does it really expand or safeguard personal freedom? I do not see that it does. Does it encourage discrimination as opponents of the bill claim? I would say it no more encourages discrimination than the current law does.

I am not a lawyer, and have not followed the cases of the Muslim cabbies and Christian baker, or the few other related cases, closely enough to know what laws the states those cases were litigated in have on the books that purport to protect the religious rights of businesses, and I honestly don't know how much of a real effect this law will have on day to day life. It would seem to me, it should not really change much one way or the other. As I already wrote, it appears to only extend existing law to one's interactions with other private citizens, and I don't see why one should be compelled to violate one's conscience in service to other citizens if one cannot be compelled to do so in service to the state.

So, my final take on SB 1062 is that its intent is perfectly reasonable in hoping to protect the rights of Arizonans (Arizonians? Those sun-burnt kids and the retirees?) The people in support of the bill have a better moral case in that matter than those who oppose the bill. However, I do not believe that the statute as amended by this bill really expands or safeguards religious freedom any more than the statute as currently written does.

Not only do I see the bill unnecessary for this reason,but also I would take into account that three of its supporters in the senate have, for all intents and purposes, changed their vote on the bill after the fact. The margin of victory was 17-13. If we now consider these senators as having changed their vote, the new margin would be a 14-16 failure. For these reasons, I think that Governor Brewer should veto the bill.

I do not see the efficacy of signing the bill into law as it is. The minimal benefits of the bill are not worth the probable costs that will result from the expected boycotts of tourism and business transactions. I do not see a purpose of starting a war when the entire purpose of the battle would be to re-establish the status quo antebellum.

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