Senate Bill 1178 Passed the House of Representatives with a 32-24 Vote
Last Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the Arizona House passed a measure that would offer further protection for the religious liberties of its state citizens. The bill seeks to strengthen religious freedom in the state by predominantly giving all “impending” religious liberty violation, as opposed to a violation which has already taken place. The measure also expands the definition of exercise of religion to specifically include both the practice and observance of religion.
Will Bill Hurt Small Business?
The bill passed despite opposition from civil liberties groups who are afraid that the measure will inspire lawsuits over alleged First Amendment violations. They believe that the bill will be a nightmare for businesses because it doesn’t specify what constitutes a potential violation of religious liberty.
The Original Bill
Senator Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, the bill’s sponsor, initially introduced a broader bill that would have alllowed people to sue governments over attacks on religious freedom, regardless if the government was involved in the claim.
The original bill also stipulated that governments could only limit religious liberties to further an “interest in the highest magnitude.” If allowed, that version of the bill, would have been one of the strongest in the nation, according to supporters.
Stricter Language on New Version
Arizona law and the U.S. Constitution already protect the free exercise of religion, but proponents want stricter language. The Center for Arizona Policy,which supports the bill, said in a statement on its website that “it is necessary to update Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and to close loopholes that might jeopardize a person’s free exercise of religion in Arizona.” Persecuting individuals or groups for their religious beliefs creates second-class citizens who are seen as less valuable because of their faith.”
“To ensure religious liberty is protected to the maximum extent possible in our state, “ the bill “makes important clarifications and updates,” says The Center for Arizona Policy.
Drawbacks of New Bill
Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) does not like the revamped bill because it does no longer allows a defendant to sue to the government over an attack on religious freedom regardless of the whether the government is involved. He remarked to the AZ Capitol Times “while you may not be encouraging litigation (with the new version of the bill), …I think you are opening the door for litigation that is probably unnecessary and burdensome, especially for small businesses. “
Yarbrough said on May 15th that he would have preferred the original version, but he supports the amended measure and wants to see Senate Bill 1178 go to a Senate vote.