Action Alert

"Free Exercise" Bill Allows Professionals to Use Religious Belief as an Excuse to Discriminate

The right to religious liberty and free exercise is very precious to believers and nonbelievers alike, and Secular Coalition for Arizona strongly supports efforts that ensure church-state protection. However, when the State creates barriers to its citizens receiving essential services (including medical care and legal representation) with policies that enable professionals and organizations to use religious belief as an excuse to discriminate, the State fails to facilitate liberty.

SB 1365
empowers doctors, hospitals, lawyers, pharmacists, other professionals, and some organizations to deny essential services to vulnerable groups of people (including LGBT people, religious minorities, and nonbelievers). This bill would make it possible, for example, for doctors to withhold medical information, services, and comprehensive referrals; enabling medical professionals to fail to provide comprehensive care endangers the lives and well-being of Arizonans and should never be encouraged by the State. And because the bill does not require professionals to disclose to patients or clients that they are invoking their right of religious exercise under the bill, patients or clients may never know that they did not receive full information from trusted professionals and will be disempowered from making informed decisions about their own well-being.

Further, because of the broad nature of the terms “religious belief” and “sincerely held,” the State will be put in an impossible position of determining when the right of religious liberty under this bill is being invoked legitimately and whether other rights (including patients’ or victims’ rights) should be subjugated to religious freedom when it causes clear harm. For example, will a doctor be allowed to kill a patient and be exempt from licensure revocation for unprofessional conduct or a malpractise suit if s/he declines to order a blood transfusion due to “sincerely held religious beliefs?”

SB 1365 also dangerously privileges religious conviction over other valid kinds of conviction; this means that individuals and organizations may behave unethically or unprofessionally simply by invoking religion. Nonreligious people who have sincerely held objections to performing services that violate the dictates of their consciences based on ethical reasoning rather than faith are not given equal right of refusal.

Religious liberty must be safeguarded in our state, but we must not abuse this liberty by making it a means to discriminate against, and violate the rights of, vulnerable Arizonans.

SB 1365 will be heard Thursday, February 23, 2012 in the Senate Committee of the Whole. Click here to find out how to contact your senator: How Do I Find or Contact My Legislators?