Proponents of HB 2648 claim that the bill merely protects the right to worship during public emergencies. But the bill is much more extreme. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As written, it would essentially give religious organizations a “get out of jail free” card for a sweeping array of laws. No state has ever adopted an exemptions law this radical, for good reason: It would be dangerous and blatantly unconstitutional.
Under the bill, the government, including courts, would be forbidden from imposing any “monetary fee, civil or criminal penalty, damages award, or injunction” against a religious organization in connection with the organization’s exercise of religion. No criminal liability. No civil liability. A complete exemption from complying with any law whenever a religious organization claims to be engaged in the exercise of religion.
HB 2648 is not only dangerous. It is unnecessary. Current Arizona law (like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) already protects religious freedom, even in times of crisis.