Before you read any of this, PLEASE click the link above and read the text of the bill itself. Done? Good. We are now prepared to engage in an intelligent and constructive dialogue about this issue, which gives you an advantage over CNN, and just about everyone else in the media who is lying to you about what this bill actually says.
The coverage of this bill is remarkably similar just about everywhere, liberal media, conservative media, even a lot of libertarian outlets seem to be parroting the same line: This is a bill crated by a bunch of hate-filled bigots that unfairly singles out homosexuals for discrimination. The bill is labeled “anti-gay” as if that’s an objective fact. That seems somewhat strange to me, because I read the text of the bill, and it doesn’t mention sexuality, homosexuals, sexual preference, gays, or anything of the sort. Not once. The only thing this bill does is extend the same protections of free exercise of religion that previously applied to “a religious assembly or institution” to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation, or any other legal entity.”
Is that really so controversial? Is that the worst thing in the world here? Worth boycotting the state over? Is that bigoted and hate-filled? To simply clarify that you don’t necessarily have to be a church in order to have a valid right to exercise your religion? The fact that this law may allow discrimination against gays does not make it an anti-gay law any more than a “stand your ground” statute is anti-black law because it may be used to allow unjustified killings against black teenagers.
To be clear – yes, under this bill, it is conceivable that an evangelical Christian baker could refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. This law would allow them the right to refuse service to individuals based on religious grounds, in the same way that prior to this law, a church could refuse to rent its space to a same-sex wedding (where’s the outrage over that?). But this bill doesn’t just protect Christians who want to unfairly discriminate against gays, it would also protect all of the following:
A Jewish electrician who refuses to work on Saturdays, because it violates the Sabbath.
A Muslim caterer who refuses to prepare pork dishes, because the animal is unclean.
An Atheist florist who refuses to prepare a floral arrangement spelling out “JESUS IS LORD” for a church service.
All of these are exercises of religion that are potentially discriminatory in nature, and I would suggest, they should all be protected. As should the Christian bakers. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that the freedom of association is absolute, and that any person should be able to deny service to any other person for any reason at all. While this bill doesn’t go that far, it does shore up legal protections for those seeking to freely associate based on religious principles, which I see as a step in the right direction.
The fact that a hostile media is spinning this bill as a bigoted attack on gays is unfortunate, but also totally beside the point. (It might be worth pointing out that virtually zero news articles about this bill actually quote it at all, nor do they provide links to the actual text of the bill. I’ll leave it to you to speculate as to why this might be the case.) Refraining from actively taking steps to legally enshrine the freedom of association out of some fear that a hostile press will smear you for doing so is essentially “letting the terrorists win.” It is allowing yourself to be bullied into silence and submission. Rather than cowering in a corner out of fear of being called homophobic, I suggest that anyone who supports free association stand up and tackle this issue head on. It falls to us to explain to people exactly why this is important, even if it bucks recent trends, even if it’s politically unpopular, and even if it contradicts what the Supreme Court happens to believe.
I believe that every individual has the right to freely associate with whomever they please. I believe that part of this freedom includes the right to not associate with anyone they don’t wish to associate with as well. I believe that every individual has the right to offer to sell goods and services, including their own personal labor, to the public at large. I believe that the exercise of one legitimate right cannot automatically be deemed as justification of stripping away other rights. In other words – if we can freely associate, and if we can sell our labor, then it is morally unjust for the government to claim that selling our labor somehow compels us to waive our rights to free association. If you disagree with any of these beliefs, I’d be very interested in having a specific conversation as to why.
The freedom of association is absolute. We cannot simply let it slip away because we’re afraid of being shouted down and called names by the New York Times. As it stands now, Arizona SB 1062 is far from perfect, but I certainly see it as a step in the right direction. Most of the attacks against it are incredibly dishonest and misleading. I stand in firm support of this bill, and I would absolutely urge other states and localities to consider adopting similar legislation.