Arizona Governor Approves Religious Privilege Bills

Yesterday night, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed two controversial bills, HB 2625 and SB 1365, into law. If you’ve been keeping up with the controversial things coming out of the Grand Canyon State in the last year, you probably felt the same chill I did. It was, well, merited.

HB 2625 expands the number of businesses who can deny access to contraception for their female employees.  Arizona is already among one of 20 states which allow some religious companies to get an exemption in covering contraception. This law would widen the number of employers that qualify to  any corporation that has articles of incorporation which explicitly state a religiously-motivated purpose, and whose religious beliefs are determined to ‘play a fundamental role in its function’.

Think that sounds a little bit less than separation of church and state? Take a look (PDF) at SB 1365:

Government shall not deny, revoke or suspend a person’s professional or occupational license, certificate or registration for any of the following and the following are not unprofessional conduct: declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs except performing the duties of a peace officer.

This section does not authorize any person to engage in conduct that violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

This means your doctor or psychiatrist can refuse to provide you care if they feel that doing so would violate their religious beliefs. That is unacceptable. When you take employment, when you interview for a job, you are agreeing to do that job. If you feel that dispensing or prescribing Plan B or birth control is immoral, do not get a job at a pharmacy. It’s as easy as that.

You can take a look the video of the House proceedings (click on the third segment in the index) prior to passage–but only if you’re prepared to be upset. The proposed Heinz Amendment to require professionals who decline to supply a reference to another provider failed. This is legislated protection for religious discrimination. Now it is law.

Last night, just after Governor Brewer signed the bills, I spoke with Seráh Blain, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, who has been lobbying hard against passage of SB 1365 and HB 2625, and she generously took some time to tell us how things are on the ground.

Tell me, in your own words, what makes these two bills so bad for the secular community and for the population of Arizona.

SB1365 is particularly harmful because it elevates the right to religious conviction over other kinds of convictions — and over basic human rights. This enables people to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against some of the most politically vulnerable people in our society.

HB 2625 is similar. It takes away an individual employee’s liberty to make decisions about what constitutes adequate, ethical reproductive healthcare for herself and her family — and it hands that right to her employer who can now make that decision for her based on the employer’s religious beliefs. It’s an assault on individual liberty and further jeopardizes the ability of women to make decisions about when and how she chooses to start or grow her family. This is particularly serious for poor women who are completely reliant upon employer-provided insurance and cannot afford to get contraception coverage elsewhere.

What has been the process of fighting these?

We’re very fortunate in Arizona to have enough support in the secular community to fund a nontheistic advocacy organization with a full-time Director and lobbyist — me! I have been at the State Capitol all legislative season talking to legislators about the importance of secularism, testifying in committee hearings, and working to stop anti-secular policy. We also send out Action Alerts to our constituents who have sent hundreds of emails and made hundreds of phone calls to our governor. We’ve collaborated with other organizations, including Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Unite Women, and people from progressive faith communities. And we’ve been building and growing local nontheistic communities throughout the state so that, moving forward, we can work with an organized, engaged constituency.

You said that of the 22 anti-secular bills you’ve lobbied against this legislative season, you believe this one is the most damaging. What have been features of other legislation you fought in the past year?

Most of the bills we’ve seen have been couched in terms of religious liberty — but they’re actually religious privilege bills. We’re seeing legislation that privileges the sectarian religious beliefs of the people in power and that elevates the right to religious expression over other kinds of rights. LGBT people, religious minorities, women, and nonbelievers are particularly vulnerable in our state.

There have been several reproductive health bills related to abortion, contraception, in vitro, gamete donation, etc., that represent a bias against particular medical procedures based on religious assumptions about human development and the value of genetic material rather than evidence. There have been bills that defund public, secular education and either divert tax dollars to private religious schools or directly fund religious schools and homeschool curricula.

We saw bills die in the legislature that religionists felt were an assault on their religious values—including a bill that would have protected teens from bullying and legislation that would have required comprehensive, fact-based sex education programs.

What, if anything, can citizens of Arizona do to prevent being denied medical care as a result of these laws?

This is going to be challenging, especially in rural religious communities. The state passed a bill this year that excludes Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortion from being reimbursed by Medicaid for even the non-abortion-related services they provide — so women without contraception coverage through their employers are losing options for access. I’m also concerned that LGBT people in rural areas are going to find it difficult to get any kind of service from state-licensed professionals, including legal services, counseling service, even real estate services.

I’m not sure there are good solutions to this problem — which is part of the reason these bills are so awful.

Have you found a majority of opposition to these laws stems from the secular community?

There has been a lot of momentum in the secular community, but there has actually also been a lot of opposition to these laws from progressive people of faith — particularly on the “War Against Women” bills. I’m finding that these folks really see Secular Coalition for Arizona as an ally because we’re actually at the State Capitol doing the work necessary to effect change. A lot of anti-atheist prejudice has dissipated as the broader community sees us more and more as social justice activists.

I am going to continue to collaborate with progressive people of faith, speak to faith organizations about how secularism protects real religious liberty, and will be working hard to advance social justice and human well being. As religious people have begun to see that many of our core values overlap, they have shown an eagerness to work together.

What comes next in fighting this legislation?

We have an election coming up — and the best way to fight this legislation is to get legislators in office who will write these policies out of statute. We’re getting to work on voter registration; we sending out candidate questionnaires and voter guides related to secularism; I’ll be doing Town Halls around the state to talk to voters about secularism; and we’ll be working to mobilize the members of the thirteen organizations we represent throughout the state and grow some new communities as well. The solution is grassroots secularism, and we’ve got a ton of momentum behind that.

How can non-Arizonans help?

Send us some money! Seriously though, go to our website and sign up for Action Alerts. You can help us let our state government know that the nation is watching. And much of the anti-secular legislation that passes in Arizona is boiler-plate from national organizations promoting a Religious Right agenda, so staying up-to-date on our bills can help folks in other states prepare for what’s coming. I would also love to hear from activists in other states working on these issues so we can advise one another, share research, etc.

The thing I like to emphasize is that secularism is a social justice movement. Religion is too easily used in government as a tool to oppress politically vulnerable individuals; we’ve seen it again and again throughout history. The best way to protect human rights and advance human well being is to keep religion out of government.

You can reach Serah at serah[at]secularAZ[dot]org.

About Kate Donovan

Kate is a junior studying psychology and human development at Northwestern University. She is the president of Northwestern's Secular Student Alliance and a writer at Teen Skepchick, Heresy Club, and various other places around the internet. Sometimes she sleeps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

    A civil war is brewing.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Interestingly, at least one influential politician has stated that in order to end “the evil of abortion,” which is “the moral issue of our day” just like slavery was the moral issue of the antebellum period, a civil war may be needed. That’s right, he suggested a civil war may be in order to end women’s access to reproductive choice. This particular individual is currently the Republican senate candidate in Indiana and favored to win the election in November. 

      • biblebeltBetty

        that’s just disturbing in all ways

      • Miss_Beara

        What?! 

        … I don’t even know what to say… 

        Ugh.

      • JA

        It would be impossible to end abortion. These people are really naive if they think ending legal abortions and ending abortions altogether are the same thing. Abortion rates tend to be about the same regardless of legality.

        • Miss_Beara

          The problem is that they refuse to understand that fact. What it ends are safe abortions. Or maybe they do realize it but don’t care. 

          This whole subject angers me. These rich, christian republican men, and women, need to stop using our uteri as political gain. It is the 21st century and we are still having this battle.  :( 

          • Onamission5

            They do understand that it would end safe abortion only, and risk the lives of women. Thing is, they honestly believe that infertility and death is a just consequence for those who’d seek out illegal abortions, in the same way that they support the death penalty for other “murderers.” At least they do until it happens to their own children.  

            This perspective brought to you by a former antichoicer who had to rethink some serious issues when a close family member had a life threatening case of hyperemesis and had to abort because she was too sick to carry to term. That was more than 20 years ago.

          • Corey

            True……wealthy folks have never had to follow laws, hence they don’t give a poop if a poor woman dies when she gets a “back alley” abortion, and they can always blame her for the situation she is in, as they have always, and still do, really believe, if a woman is raped, it is her own fault, or god’s will so she will have a baby….or some utterly moronic idea, which shows just how cruel these people are. What amazes me the most is, these pigs are such hypocrites, like the Puritans who came here to practice their religion freely, but then killed, banned, (etc) people who wanted the same rights and freedoms. The “Christian Founding” these pigs always speak about was NOT when Theocratic Puritans landed, but some 300 yrs later when the “US Constitution” was created. Which clearly wanted ideally to give people of all religious beliefs, the same rights and protections. Too bad liberalism has been allowed to flourish, as a liberal, I would like to travel back in time and slaughter liberals during the times when Romans tossed Christians into lion pits for entertainment, the whole community gathered to enjoy. This way, Christianity, and any other wacko religion, may have been snuffed out, and Secular ideology, would be the majority. Secularism that does not burn witches, kill gays, ban interracial marriage, or blame the rape victim for the rape. Yes, I believe all evil throughout history, was motivated and guised as religious supported.

        • Fentwin

          I’ve often said tat if abortion is ever made illegal, just buy stock in coat hanger and knitting needle manufacturers. 

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Yes. Too bad the idea of making defensive preparations is anathema to 99.99% of the secular population.

  • Kaydenpat

    WOW.  So to combat abortion, you cut off women’s access to contraceptives, which could stop unwanted pregnancies.  I guess that makes sense in Right Wing World.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Arizona… more like Afghanistan every day.

    • Thin-ice

      Sounds like they want to be a little Texas.

  • Annie

    Another option for helping (for religious people who think this is outrageous) would be to donate what you would usually give to your church to Planned Parenthood, the Secular Coalition for Arizona, or any number of organizations that are trying to help.  It would be even better if you wrote this on your empty donation envelope and put it in the collection basket. 

  • observer

    Note to fundies: the more legal rights you give yourselfs, the less you have a right to bitch that your “religious privileges” are being taken away.

    • Stev84

       Of course they are not going to see it that way

  • TheAnalogKid

    Yay, Christians!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Margaret-Whitestone/100001682409207 Margaret Whitestone

    Just one more reason we’ll never visit Arizona again.  

  • http://twitter.com/Skepgineer skepgineer

    Get rid of the whole employer-based healthcare fiasco and get a national health system like Canada.  The US healthcare system is a pathetically inefficient failure.

  • Reason_Being

    In the “Race to the Bottom”  it seems that Arizona and Tennessee are really going to battle it out…I cringe when wondering what Tennessee will propose next week to “up the ante”…

    • Miss_Beara

      Don’t forget North Carolina. 

      This country makes me sad. 

  • Digitalatheist

    Sigh… it is time to drive a stake through the heart of religion. Them make sure to cut off it’s head and bury it in the middle of a crossroads with a rose stuffed in its mouth, and garlic lining the whole coffin… then set it on fire and dump the ashes in a cesspool. just saying…

  • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

    Arizona , taking some of the heat off North Carolina ;)

  • Fsq

    Arizona has become a national shame. When you have a state that makes Mississippi look progressive in comparison, you know something has gone very very wrong.

    As a Californian, I am more worried about Arizona people coming across state lines and polluting my state versus illegals sneaking across the border to get into my state. Seal off the Arizona borders and don’t let them out. Or put in a pipeline that allows them to travel under New Mexico to Texas where they can compare bigotry and trade shitty house bill trading cards.

    Jan Brewer – shame on you.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      If you look at the various legislation that has come out of Arizona recently, it is apparent that Jan Brewer has no shame. She’s an anti-family, racist, hate-filled bigot. A typical representative of the political right these days.

  • Manxcat57

    Really need to move out of this crazy state….

  • bobo

    That is just insanity.  I think secular professionals need to start an organization to help people who will be hurt by this idiocy.  
    Those that decline care or service should also be exposed and ridiculed publicly on the Internet.

    • http://www.secularAZ.org/ SerahB

      I love this idea! Professionals who pledge not to use religion as an excuse to discriminate could have an online presence so they’re easy to find–and we can boycott those who discriminate.

  • OCRazor

    I lived in AZ for more than 30 years.  This kind of thing has happened before – I remember when Gov. Evan Mecham rescinded the MLK state holiday.   There are a lot of Hispanics (Catholics), Mormans, and retirees (Conservatives).  Add them all up and these are the kind of  lawmakers that get elected and the BS religious based laws you get. 

    This is just one more reason I don’t live there anymore.   Thankfully people like Serah will eventually educate the younger people and force change.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Interesting how many anti-woman and anti-gay laws also turn out to be good news for companies looking to reduce their employee benefits costs.

    “do not get a job at a pharmacy.”  Why wait that long?  I believe there was a case where a woman was not allowed to complete her degree in counseling because she said she would not work with gay people for religious reasons;  no pharmacy or medical student who intends to deny anyone service for religious reasons should be allowed to get a degree at any institution that receives any public funding.

  • NoGods4Me

    I live in Arizona and every time I see that disgusting evil Jan Brewer, I hear the Wicked Witch of the West theme music from The Wizard of Oz in my head.  Hey Jan, show us your flying monkeys!!!

  • Faxywwf

    I don’t have to participate in your world