PHOENIX, AZ – Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer has just vetoed a controversial bill (S.B. 1062) passed by both houses of the state legislature along partisan lines that claimed to promote religious freedom, but actually allowed businesses and individuals to discriminate against anyone if serving that person violated the religious beliefs of the owner or individual. Her reason for the veto: business interests. She was not concerned with the freedom, liberty, or protection of those who may be discriminated against, or the fact that this bill would have opened a virtual “Pandora’s Box” of discrimination against anyone under the auspices of “religious freedom.”
The fact that his kind of bill could even be considered in our state legislature is disturbing enough, let alone being passed by both houses along mostly partisan lines (a handful of Republicans voted against it), is disturbing and has to make us wonder what is going on in those chambers.
After strong public and business outcries, three Republican state senators (Adam Druggs, District 28, Steve Pierce, District 1, and Bob Worsley, District 25) who voted for the bill sent a letter to the governor urging her to veto it. However, they did not change their minds about the bill. Rather, according to their released letter, the reason for their urging was that “the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.” In other words, even with the veto they will be able to go back to a small, loud, reactionary faction within their party and say, “We tried!”
We are in need of a government that is truly “of the people, by the people, for the people” (in the words of Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg Address). Republican or Democrat, we need legislators interested in actually serving the greater good for our society, and not about trying to pass ridiculous legislation that wastes everyone’s time, money, and resources, just so they can say “we tried” but does nothing to fix broken education, social service, or prison systems, and that does nothing to further the greater good for all people for which they were charged and vowed to protect and serve (not just those who voted for them).
We have a recourse that is the most powerful weapon against this ridiculousness that puts people’s actual lives in danger and puts our whole community at risk: voting. Arizona continuously ranks as one of the worst states for voter turnout: 2012 – 53.3% (44th); 2010 – 55.6% (43rd), 2008 – 60.5% (46th), 2006 – 38.6% (one of the lowest in the U.S.) – gathered from various sources. There is one way to effectively challenge the dysfunction in our state, county, and city governments: vote. But once we vote, we are not done! We must then stay engaged and seek to follow our legislators, be in contact with them, and let them know what we really want them to do. We may not always be on the “winning” side of these debates, but we must charge our leaders to seek the common good and not view an election win of 51% of the votes as a “mandate” for narrowly defined ideologies (conservative or liberal).
As a Christian I am charged by Christ to respect those in authority, but still seek to hold them accountable, especially to those whose voices are silenced or ignored. Those who claim Churches should not be involved in politics have not really read the Bible: the prophets were involved in what happened in their societies and sought to change things for the better; Jesus was actively engaged with the “powers that be” and sought to change things for the better; the disciples actively sought to shape culture and society in and out of government for the better. I don’t believe that should be the only thing we do as religious people, but it should be a significant part of what we do after we have spent time together in prayer, study, and discernment.
I hope and pray we might work together across theological, ideological, and political lines to charge and help our legislators and leaders to seek the most common good for all people, and encourage civil debate about issues. But we must first try to help the people recognize their inherent power as citizens of this country. I believe we can do it! But the extremists must be tempered.