Written by Anthony Moujaes
UPDATE on Feb. 27: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062 late Wednesday night. UCC activists in Arizona said the broadly-worded language in the bill would have negative consequences, which Brewer acknowledged in explaining her decision.
Members of the United Church of Christ assembled by the dozens Monday night outside the Arizona Statehouse in Phoenix, joining almost 1,500 people to deliver a clear message to their representatives and governor. Their plea is to prevent a bill presented as protection for religious freedom from becoming a doorway for discrimination.
The bill, Senate Bill 1062, would allow anyone in the state to legally refuse business or service to any person based on religious freedom. Opponents claim 1062 would allow discrimination against any group of people – the LGBT community in particular – for religious reasons.
"Our group and our message is that religious freedom is not freedom to discriminate," said UCC pastor the Rev. Jeff Dirrim. "Everybody has the right to believe what they want to believe, but that should not infringe on the rights of others."
Dirrim, pastor at Rebel and Divine UCC in Phoenix, joined more than 25 people from his congregation and about 75 from the Southwest Conference of the UCC outside the Arizona Statehouse. His issue with SB 1062 is that it's "marketed as religious freedom."
"It's wrong for the state, and wrong for the people," said Dirrim. "But the general public has risen, and I don't see a way Gov. Brewer cannot veto it."
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer called it "one of the worst bills passed in state history" and believes it would permit "state-sanctioned discrimination." Dorhauer is conference minister for the Southwest Conference of the UCC, which ministers to UCC congregations in Arizona.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled Arizona House and Senate as members mostly voted along with party lines, and Gov. Jan Brewer has until Friday, Feb. 28 to sign the bill into law or veto it.
When a local journalist asked Dorhauer if he planned to publicly shame lawmakers, he replied, "I am not sure if shame would have any impact on them. If they had any shame at all they wouldn't have passed this legislation."
The law was written to address a non-existent problem, said Dirrim. He believes that Arizona's ban against same-sex marriage will be overturned in court, so 1062 would give business owners the right to refuse services to same-sex couples and avoid potential lawsuits similar to those that occurred in two other states. In Oregon, a baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and was sued for discrimination, and in New Mexico a florist was sued for denying services.
However, Oregon and New Mexico protect the LGBT community in their laws. Arizona doesn't have any anti-LGBT discrimination laws.
There are 20 states in which it is against the law to discriminate based on sexual orientation, though recent "religious freedom" laws have been proposed in Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee.
All of those bills failed.
"We don't discriminate in the UCC, and I'm proud of that," Dirrim said. "All over town there are signs that say, 'We are open for business,' and we'll see that God is still speaking on this issue."