Saturday, March 1, 2014

Arizona, Ohio "religious freedoms" bills not to be

On Wednesday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the "religious freedoms" bill that many claimed would lead to discrimination against LGBT persons; and, in Ohio, the sponsors of bipartisan legislation similar to that in Arizona said they will withdraw it after similar criticisms arose, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Robert Higgs. He wrote:

Opponents in Arizona, and here in Ohio, said the broad language of the pieces of legislation would give business owners a license to discriminate against people who do not match their religious beliefs, especially for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. That group has not been recognized yet as a protected class by U.S. courts.


The breadth of the legislation made it ripe for unintended uses, said Susan Becker, a law professor at Cleveland’s Marshall College of Law.


The bill would have allowed Ohioans to challenge state or local laws, ordinances and other policies on the grounds their "practice or observance of religion" was burdened. The government would then have to prove, using a standard of strict scrutiny, that the challenged law is necessary or crucial, for the law to be applied.


It also would have allowed those sued for discriminatory behavior to cite the law as a defense. Businesses denying services to gay customers could cite their religious beliefs that oppose same sex relationships as a defense, said Becker.

Opposition to such legislation appears quite strong, but The Atlantic's Peter Beinart thinks internal political pressure could be the important factor here. He claims Gov. Brewer vetoed Arizona's "religious freedoms" bill because the Republican power structure is becoming more vertical, writing:

Brewer faced pressure to sign the bill from below: from the local legislators and activists who passed it. But she ultimately succumbed to pressure from above: from national Republican leaders and their corporate allies, who fear looking complicit with homophobia at a time when homophobia is rapidly becoming a political and economic loser.


There’s been a lot of this kind of vertical wrangling in recent months. In Congress, House Majority Leader John Boehner has tried to push rank-and-file Republican members of congress to unconditionally raise the debt ceiling and support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. Republican bigwigs have tried to prevent local Tea Partiers from mounting primary challenges that undermine the GOP’s chances of taking the senate. The Republican National Committee has published an “autopsy” of the 2012 presidential race that proposes giving the national party more control of the 2016 primary calendar and debate schedule so as to avoid another lengthy, nasty nomination fight that leaves the eventual nominee drained of cash and far out on an ideological limb.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what forms future efforts to "protect religious freedoms" take.

Read Higg's full report here:

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