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Brewer vetoes religious liberty bill, warns of unintended consequences

Gov. Jan Brewer (File Photo)

Gov. Jan Brewer (File Photo)

Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have protected people from losing their professional licenses over their religious beliefs after the board that certifies police officers warned that it could prevent the state from disciplining police officers who are members of a polygamous sect in northern Arizona.

Brewer said a provision in Senate Bill 1288 that prohibited government entities from denying, suspending or revoking professional licenses based on a person’s religious beliefs or practices was “overly broad” and could be misused. In her veto letter, Brewer wrote that the provision banning criminal conduct and sexual misconduct may not be strong enough to prevent people from committing those abuses while invoking religious freedom.

“This bill could protect conduct that harms the public but cannot be readily addressed if a person claims that the conduct is based on religious beliefs,” Brewer wrote.

In a letter to the governor, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board argued that SB 1288 would protect unprofessional, but legal, conduct by police officers in the polygamous town of Colorado City. The officers were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

POST Executive Director Lyle Mann noted that three police officers in Colorado City have been decertified for polygamy, which is prohibited by the Arizona Constitution but not by state law. Officers in Colorado City corresponded with their church’s fugitive leader, refused to cooperate with investigations and failed to provide protection to non-FLDS residents of their the town. POST

“Under this law, it could be argued that following the direction of the church, rather than the Constitution and code of ethics, is a right and the state may not intervene to protect its citizens from what appeared to be a church-controlled police force,” POST Executive Director Lyle Mann wrote.

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod, whose organization strongly backed the bill, said law enforcement organizations raised objections to the bill after it reached Brewer’s desk. She said CAP would work to fix the bill to address those concerns.

“If the concerns had been raised during the legislative process, we certainly would have addressed those concerns raised by law enforcement,” Herrod said. “We accept the governor’s willingness to work on this issue and bring it back. We would hope that could still be done this year, but if not this year, then certainly next year.”

Brewer said she would work with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, and other supporters to make the needed changes and bring it back for the 2012 session.

Another provision in the bill would have prohibited government from denying a person a position on a board or commission based on the person’s religious beliefs.

That provision was a direct response to comments made by Louis Araneta, a former member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, during interviews for the Independent Redistricting Commission. Araneta questioned whether an applicant, whom the commission rejected, would be able to separate his religious activities from his duties as a commissioner.

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