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SB1062 backers see ‘Hobby Lobby’ ruling as potential boon

Hobby LobbyThe group behind a vetoed religious freedom law intends to study Monday’s Supreme Court ruling as a chance to revamp it and try again next year.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy said the 5-4 decision in the Hobby Lobby case underscores her organization’s belief that people do not give up their religious liberties simply because they choose to start a business. She said that was one of the key points that SB1062 would have made had it not been vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

That measure would have expanded the rights of individuals to refuse to obey certain laws and regulations that conflict with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Potentially more significant, it would have extended that right to corporations.

Herrod said Monday’s decision breathes new life into that effort, with an eye on asking lawmakers – and whoever is elected governor – to revisit the issue when the new session starts in January.

“Obviously, over the next six months or whatever, many legal scholars will be analyzing the opinion, looking at the nuances of the opinion,” she said. “We will be doing the same to see are there any indications from the opinion that would apply to Arizona law where parts of the opinion should be codified in Arizona law.”

One key issue is the question of whether corporations have a right of religious freedom.

“We still have the Arizona laws that (define) a ‘person’ as including a corporation,” Herrod said. “And that was basically what we were trying to do in SB1062” by extending to them the protections of Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Supreme Court did not quite go that far in interpreting the federal version of RFRA. Instead, the justices limited Monday’s ruling to “closely held corporations,” generally meaning those where all the stock is owned by family members or a small group. Herrod said she’s not sure whether some new version of SB1062 should again try to provide a religious exemption for all corporations or only the smaller subset of family-owned businesses.

“That’s a decision that needs to be made as we really closely analyze the opinion,” she said. “We just don’t know yet what would make sense on that or what needs to happen.”

But Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, said all the focus on a new version of SB1062 to provide religious freedom protection to corporations misses the point.

She said existing laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race and national origin.

“You never hear about corporations using their religious beliefs to discriminate on any of those bases,” Wininger said. She said once those laws are extended to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, then the issue of corporations using religion as an excuse to discriminate will disappear.

“I don’t know whether it’s going to be in the next five years, the next 10 years or the next 20 years,” Wininger said.

“But eventually we’re going to get there,” she continued. “And then conversations like this become irrelevant because you can’t take your religious beliefs and say, ‘I’m not going to hire people from the African-American race’ because that just doesn’t fly.”

Asked for a comment on Monday’s Supreme Court ruling and the veto of SB1062, gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder responded by saying his boss does not believe further legislation he necessary.

He noted that Brewer has signed various religious freedom laws, including a measure saying that Arizona businesses that designate themselves as a “religiously affiliated employer” will no longer have to include contraception in the insurance coverage they provide for their workers.

That 2012 law applies to an entity whose articles of incorporation “clearly state that it is a religiously motivated organization and whose religious beliefs are central to the organization’s operating principles.”

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