Why ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Could be a License to Discriminate

Opponents of the SB1062, a religious freedom bill, urged Gov. Brewer to veto the bill during a protest rally at the state Capitol, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)

[MSNBC]

Opponents of the SB1062, a religious freedom bill, Ryan Ebersole, of Mesa, and Rev. Stephen Govett, of Glendale, urged Gov. Brewer to veto the bill during a protest rally Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at the state Capitol. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)
Opponents of the SB1062, a religious freedom bill, Ryan Ebersole, of Mesa, and Rev. Stephen Govett, of Glendale, urged Gov. Brewer to veto the bill during a protest rally Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at the state Capitol. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Cheryl Evans)

Conservatives insist the so-called religious freedom bills that would allow a right to refuse to serve same-sex couples don’t do what liberals and gay and lesbian rights activists say they would do. Yet the bills supposedly crafted to protect religious business-owners’ right to discriminate against same-sex couples solely within the context of marriage ceremonies or celebrations could be much broader than their stated purpose.

“I just don’t know anybody influential in the religious freedom arena who thinks that you should be giving people some type of pocket veto not to provide services to people based on their sexual orientation in general public accommodations,” Brian Walsh, the head of the American Religious Freedom Program, which helped draft the Kansas bill, told msnbc last week.

Walsh seemed shocked that opponents of such laws believe that the Kansas bill and others like it would allow a broader right of refusal than simply allowing religious business owners to refuse to provide services to same-sex wedding ceremonies or celebrations.

“I don’t know any influential party who thinks that you should be protecting the hotel chains, or the diners, or the gas stations, or anything like that,” Walsh said. “If the legislature decides to further clarify things like that, I think that’s great.”

Other conservatives backing these laws have stuck to that narrow defense. Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote that the Kansas bill “would not allow businesses, individuals, or government employees from refusing to serve someone (or a couple) simply because of his or her sexual orientation.”

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