Take Immediate Action on HB2507: Religious Interests Should Not Come First

We’ll be brief: the major, dangerous religious exemptions bill we’ve been warning about all session is being heard in on the Senate floor today, moving it just a couple steps away from becoming law. HB2507 would put religious interests above most all others in public life, overriding nondiscrimination ordinances, laws protecting children, and more.

Check out our deep-dive article here for the full scoop.

This bill has been getting bipartisan support, so it’s important our State Senators hear from us, regardless of party. We hope you’ll join us in contacting yours today. Our form letter is still live here if you’d like to use it (again), or you can look up your Senators’ contact info to give them a call here.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Take Action: Religious Privilege on Steroids

The biggest religious privilege bill of all time is being heard again, this time in Senate Government Committee on Monday 3/14.

We’ve described HB2507 as “religious privilege on steroids.” The loopholes created in this amendment to Arizona’s Civil Rights code would:

  • Allow religious organizations to circumvent all anti-discrimination laws
  • Make religious exercise a defense in almost any lawsuit, including prosecutions for crimes like sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, negligent homicide, and pedophile grooming acts like administering drugs and alcohol to children
  • Let religious organizations freely ignore public safety laws regarding public emergencies
  • Violate the State and US Constitutions, resulting in wasteful lawsuits

This bill is supported by SPLC-designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, yet has been garnering the support of an increasing amount of support from lawmakers in both parties.

What you can do:

  1. Send another message to lawmakers—this time members of the Senate Government Committee and our own Senators.
  2. Sign in against the bill on Request to Speak (RTS) and testify if you can
  3. Join us for Monday’s Secular Day at the Capitol, where we’ll help people get set up to use RTS and lobby lawmakers on this dangerous bill

By the way, registration is closed to request lunch and lawmaker appointments for Day at the Capitol, but drop-ins are still welcome!

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Demand Wendy Rogers’ Expulsion for Antisemitism

Republican State Senators sent a flashy message to Wendy Rogers by censuring her over remarks at a white nationalist conference, where she praised a Holocaust denier, called for the execution of political opponents, and led a chant praising Putin.

But the vote is pure theatre. Rogers still sits on committees and is now even fundraising off her censure, with fresh support from Governor Ducey.

This censure didn’t even mention Rogers by name, and completely ignored her anti-semitic bigotry.

Since Friday, Rogers has tweeted several times about “globalists”—a dog whistle for Jews and George Soros, the Jewish billionaire at the center of right-wing conspiracy theories. In one, she called Ukraine’s Jewish president a “globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”

“I stand with the Christians worldwide not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face,” she tweeted Friday.

A formal censure for all this is a meaningless slap on the wrist. 

It’s time to send a real message to white supremacists. Arizonans should demand a formal vote to remove Rogers from office.

Please join us in contacting Senate President Karen Fann (R-1) today and demanding Roger’s immediate explusion. 

Call President Fann: (602) 926-5874

Email: kfann@azleg.gov

In Solidarity,

HB2507 Places Religious Organizations Above the Law in All Areas of Life

The biggest, most dangerous religious privilege bill of all time just passed the House and moved to the Senate.
Under HB2507, people who have been harmed by a religious organization or business are prohibited from suing or seeking prosecution for a huge array of laws, with exceptions carved out for only a select few heinous crimes. Under it, religious organizations would be permitted to freely discriminate against whomever they likeand religious practice could be used to defend in court against charges of crimes such as unlawful imprisonment, sex trafficking, fraudulent schemes, and child abuse.
This bill passed with support of all House Republicans, plus Democratic Representatives Chavez (D-29), Diego Rodriguez (D-27), Alma Hernandez (D-3), Espinoza (D-19), Meza (D-30), and Sierra (D-19).
Secular AZ attorney Beth Houck has a detailed analysis here, and we’ve revised our previously-issued action form here so that messages now go to the Senate. When you have a moment, read up, spread the message, and contact your State Senator regardless of party affiliation.

CONTACT MY SENATOR NOW

Oppose Bills that Push Religious Dogma, Take Away Choice & Punish Health Care Providers

The Legislature is hearing three bills this week designed to push religious dogma, control women, and punish health care providers.

HB2637 and SB1044 would force the state to divest from and cease doing business with any company that provides abortion or sex education materials—or any company that donates toward these causes.

This would not only hurt providers of reproductive health, but also hurt schools that rely on organizations like Planned Parenthood for scientifically-accurate, inclusive curricula about sex and relationships.

HB2811 would make it a class 3 felony to make, sell, or help someone obtain an abortion pill. This would have severe impacts, especially on women in poor or rural areas where access to safe conventional abortion is already scarce.

We’ve put together a form for you below where you can quickly send committee members a piece of your mind about these bills. I hope you’ll join us in doing so.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Oppose Coercion and “Separate But Equal” in Schools

AZ’s House Education Committee will hear two bills creating an atmosphere of coercion and discrimination in schools:

HB2707 unconstitutionally requires teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and two-minutes of “silent reflection” (i.e. prayer time) in classrooms.

HB2314 creates a discriminatory “separate-but-equal” system for gendered school bathrooms and other accommodations. It also opens non-cisgender students up to unwanted attention and embarrassment by forcing them to make written requests to use facilities matching their gender identity.

Bonds of trust between parents, kids, and their teachers are key to educational success. Kids need to feel like they can trust the adults in their lives to have their best interests in mind—not to foster atmospheres of religious indoctrination or discrimination.

Here’s what you can do right now about these bills:

  1. Use our action alert form to read more and contact committee members
  2. If you are a Request to Speak user, sign in against these bills before Tuesday morning.
  3. RSVP for Secular Day at the Capitol where we will rally and lobby with lawmakers against bills like these

TAKE ACTION NOW

 

Have more time for action?

The parade of anti-democracy bills and other rights violations impacting us all continues. If you’re ready to really dig in, click here for the complete list of bill numbers you can sign in against through Request to Speak or call committee members about this week.

Thank you so much for your commitment and passion.

-The Secular AZ Team

Oppose the Most Sweeping Religious Exemptions Bill EVER

On Wednesday 2/9, legislators will hear a bill making religious services so “essential” that religious concerns would be placed above all others in public life. Always.

HB2507 is worded in such a way as to disguise itself as a bill about public emergencies, but it’s secretly an amendment to Arizona’s Civil Rights Act that would apply at all times.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works:

  • Adds to Civil Rights code language forbidding the state and local governments from “discriminating” against religion
  • Defines “discrimination” as “any direct or indirect act or practice that adversely affects a religious organization.”
  • Defines “religious organization” not just as a church, but also corporations and clubs.
  • Requires the state to demonstrate “a compelling interest” just to enforce neutral health or safety acts, and administer the “least restrictive” corrections.

What this boils down to is that if any group claiming to be religious—from major hospitals to adoption agencies to the KKK—doesn’t like a restriction, they can shrug it off.

Religious privileges would trump all non-discrimination ordinances.

Health codes and child protection laws would become harder to enforce with softer penalties for religious groups.

And groups could ignore any emergency restriction they don’t like, including but not limited to mask and vaccine mandates, pandemic closures… etc,. etc.

So here’s what you can do about it:

  1. Contact members of the House Judiciary Committee before Wednesday at 9am. Use our automatic emailer here  (or see their phone numbers in this article).
  2. If you’re a Request to Speak user, sign in against this bill. (Be patient—the RTS system is moving very slowly!)

Oppose Taxpayer-Funded Giveaways to Private Schools

We’re continuing to watch several dozen bills of interest moving through the Legislature. The ones to speak out about this weekend are a slate of education attacks headed for committee on Tuesday.
School voucher expansions SB1131, SB1657, and SB1707 yet again expand the use of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which suck money out of public education and redistribute it to private and religious schools via tuition vouchers.

The bills are new but the argument against them is still the same. Funding religious schools with public dollars is unconstitutional. And funding private schools with tax dollars is an ineffective rip-off that mainly benefits education privateers.

We’ve put together an action form here. You can use it to contact committee members in as quick as a minute.

CONTACT LAWMAKERS NOW

Bills in Committee Feb 7-8

We’re continuing to watch several dozen bills of interest moving through Legislative committees. Here’s the full list of what’s on our radar next week:

In House Health & Human Services: Monday, 2/7/22:

  • HB2086: schools cannot require COVID or Human Papillomavirus vaccines

 

Committee members:

Kelli Butler (D) – (602) 926-5156 / kbutler@azleg.gov

Joseph Chaplik (R) – (602) 926-3436 / jchaplik@azleg.gov

Alma Hernandez (D) – (602) 926-3136 / ahernandez@azleg.gov

Steve Kaiser (R) – (602) 926-3314 / skaiser@azleg.gov

Joanne Osborne (R) – (602) 926-3181 / josborn@azleg.gov

Beverly Pingerelli (R) – (602) 926-3396 / bpingerelli@azleg.gov

Pam P. Hannley (D) – (602) 926-4848 / ppowershannley@azleg.gov

Amish Shah (D) – (602) 926-3280 / ashah@azleg.gov

Justin Wilmeth (R) – (602) 926-5044 / jwilmeth@azleg.gov

 

In Senate Government: Monday, 2/7/22:

  • SB1058: banning drive-up voting; ballot boxes
  • SB1298: mask mandate prohibition
  • SB1357: restrictions on voting machines
  • SB1358: mandating that ballots must be counted at precincts instead of counties (facilitating actual election fraud)
  • SB1359: all election workers must have unique usernames and passwords (so that individuals can be targeted more easily with election fraud accusations)
  • SB1360: expanding access to polls granted to “election observers” (facilitating voter intimidation)
  • SB1362: requiring same-day tabulation; more poll workers/electors
  • SB1380: monthly scrubbing of voter rolls
  • SB1404: restrictions on early voting (would particularly impact people with disabilities)
  • SB1457: restrictions on voting machines
  • SB1474: all elections must be in person
  • SB1477: monthly update of felony convictions records (so as to restrict election access)

 

Committee members:

Sonny Borrelli (R) – (602) 926-5051 / sborelli@azleg.gov

Sally Ann Gonzales (D) – (602) 926-3278 / sgonzales@azleg.gov

Theresa Hatathlie (D) – (602) 926-5160 / thatathlie@azleg.gov

Warren Petersen (R) – (602) 926-4136 / wpetersen@azleg.gov

Martin Quezada (D) – (602) 926-5911 / mquezada@azleg.gov

Wendy Rogers (R) – (602) 926-3042 / wrogers@azleg.gov

Kelly Townsend (R) – (602) 926-4467 / ktownsend@azleg.gov

 

In Senate Education Tuesday, 2/8/22: 

  • SB1131, SB1657, & SB1707: expansions to the state’s school voucher program.
  • SB1412: lowering standards for who can be hired as a substitute teacher
  • SB1519: opening the door for defunding special education

Committee members:

Nancy Barto (R) – (602) 926-5766 / nbarto@azleg.gov

Paul Boyer (R) – (602) 926-4173 / pboyer@azleg.gov

Sally Ann Gonzales (D) – (602) 926-3278 / sgonzales@azleg.gov

Rick Gray (R) – (602) 926-5413 / rgray@azleg.gov

Theresa Hatathlie (D) – (602) 926-5160 / thatathlie@azleg.gov

Christine Marsh (D) – (602) 926-3184 / cmarsh@azleg.gov

Tyler Pace (R) – (602) 926-5760 / tpace@azleg.gov

Thomas Shope (R) – (602) 926-3012 / tshope@azleg.gov

 

What you can do:

  1. Contact the committee members listed above before the day of the hearing
  2. If you are a Request to Speak user, sign in against the above bills. (Note: RTS is moving very slowly, so prepared to be patient.)

 

We will provide an additional update at the beginning next week for bills being heard Wednesday and beyond.

 

In Solidarity,

-The Secular AZ Team

A big expansion of the school voucher program is headed for a crucial vote

SB1452 once again expands the amount of public dollars given to private and religious schools.

SB1452 makes numerous small changes to state law to further broaden the reach of its controversial “Empowerment Scholarship Account” (school voucher) program.

Essentially, SB1452 loosens the criteria for who receives vouchers. It loosens restrictions on who can vouchers alongside the state’s similar tuition tax credit program. It also would siphon more low-income students from public schools rather than adequately fund those schools.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Vouchers disproportionately benefit the wealthy: the cost of going to private schools is much higher than that of going to public schools. Even with vouchers in hand, the majority of impoverished families can’t afford it. Families that are already financially secure, meanwhile, get a handout.
  • This handout comes at the expense of struggling public school districts:  When a public school loses a student to the voucher program, it loses thousands of dollars that help pay for teachers, building, and classroom costs. These schools continue to have the same overhead with less revenue.
  • Data shows private schools perform far worse than public schools academically, with less oversight.
  • Vouchers violate our rights to religious freedom by using public funds for religious indoctrination. Vouchers largely benefit religious schools, some of which teach extremist dogma and discriminate against students for religious reasons.

This bill is close to a crucial vote on the House floor.

Contact your State Representatives using our form here.

The Decline of the Establishment Clause?

The Decline of the Establishment Clause?

Dianne Post, Secular AZ Legal Director

The ABA sponsored a 90-minute seminar on October 8 on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee, moderated the presentation.  He began by outlining the two strands of Establishment Clause jurisprudence: a strict prohibition against aiding religion versus accommodation to religion.

The first speaker was Thomas C. Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas in Chicago. He said the Establishment Clause is declining in both a good and bad way.  The good way, as he believes, is that government money can now go to religious operations. Repeatedly he trumpeted the Espinoza v. Montana mandatory school funding decision as allowing impoverished parents to choose which schools to send their children to. That is a complete red herring, as most students in private and religious schools come from well-off families, not the poor, and “school choice” is code for school discrimination as the South developed it after Brown v. Board of Education mandated integration.

To Enforce the Establishment Clause is Not Discrimination

What listeners in the chat pointed out is that the religious want “religious choice” to pick a religious school with taxpayers paying for it, but they don’t want women to have “religious choice” to use contraception, or have an abortion and have the government or even insurance pay for it.

The bad way was an increase in allowing the government itself to pray and display religious symbols as in the Town of Greece v. Galloway city council invocation case and Bladensberg cross case. That was about the extent of our agreement.

I understand they don’t want to pay for my abortion; I don’t want to pay for your child to go to religious school either.  They don’t want to pay taxes, but they want tax money. They want to be able to discriminate, but they don’t want to be discriminated against.  They want to have their cake and eat it too.

Steven Green, professor of law and director of the Center for Religion at Willamette University in Oregon, was the next speaker.  He noted that this struggle has been going on since the Great Society began giving money to private groups to engage in government welfare programs.  The trend has accelerated. Green argued that we can accommodate religion, but when it is a zero sum game and a burden is transferred to another person, that we cannot do (e.g. the Hobby Lobby case was wrongly decided as  “religious personhood” of a business is a complete farce and the “burden” was transferred to someone else, the women employees locked out of health care).

Green said the Establishment Clause has been turned on its head, especially in Espinoza; i.e. the original intent — that government should not fund religious activity — has come to mean that government cannot discriminate against religious activity in funding. But to enforce the Establishment Clause is not discrimination.Religions get benefits that others don’t, such as:

  • paying no tax
  • filing no donation/income documents
  • getting breaks on zoning, parking, drinking, dietary practices, running businesses, and other regulations

They want to continue to get all those benefits that other non-profits don’t, and get the money too.

Green also argued that the expression clause has also been eroded in the last 10 years. He pointed out that we cannot look at a frozen point in time 240 years ago and identify all the history impacting the actions nor understand the motivations. Also, we have to allow for changes in attitudes and perceptions. 

Disestablishment (states having a state religion) disappeared in 12 years.  That was a total change in attitude. At the time of the First Amendment, over 90% of Americans were Protestants. Now less than 50% are. We cannot cherry-pick certain speeches or laws and use those as an analogy. No social impetus has driven the court to support religion. Usually social trends lead the court; in this case, the court is trying to create a trend to take us backward to some previous time.

Holly Hollman, general counsel and associate executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, spoke next.  She was clear that their history is one of supporting separation of church and state. Our country is envied for its tolerance and lack of discord over religion. These religious decisions are destroying that balance.  They believe that keeping government and religion separate benefits religion; it is not hostile to it. Separation avoids government financial entanglement, which was the main purpose. We have gone from no funding of churches to mandatory funding of churches in the Trinity Lutheran case.  Hollman argues that this trend is harming churches by decreasing their independence, by encouraging attacks on churches for the special treatment they now get (why should churches be exempt from taxes when they get tax money etc.), and discourages fairness to all religions, which leads to intolerance and the weakening of religious freedom for everyone.

Asma Uddin, from the Religious Freedom Center at UCLA, was the last speaker.  She claimed that the main purpose of the Establishment Clause was to expand volunteerism, a point Green completely disagreed with.  She claims that the court in Espinoza simply expanded religious choice (with no consideration for those who chose no religion). Uddin reiterated the holdings of a bunch of cases, read some list written by a professor, and repeated slogans like “leave religion alone” and “religious choice,” but really had not much to add to the discussion.

When You are Used to Being Dominant, Fairness Feels like Oppression

Marc Stern remarked that society is becoming less religious by the decade, and asked how does this or should this influence the court. Green pointed out that the court is seeking to return to an earlier place because white Protestants are concerned about losing their privileged status in society.  They realize they are being deposed from their positions and so they feel attacked. When a group has been in control and held power and then equality is imposed, that group feels they are being treated unfairly.

Studies have been done in school where teachers called on boys disproportionately.  The teachers didn’t believe it until they watched the video tapes.  They thought they were calling on girls equally – they weren’t.  So they started calling on girls equally. The boys complained that they were not being treated fairly. When you are used to being dominant, fairness feels like oppression.

Green pointed out an extremely interesting contradiction: In the Lady of Guadalupe case, the church argued that teachers in the school, even if teaching math, were in fact part of the religious education of the school, because everything the school does is for the purpose of religious teaching. Thus the teachers came under the ministerial exemption and could be fired at will by the church.

But on the other hand, in Espinoza the school argued that they were discriminated against not based on what they did (religious teaching) but what they were (a religious school).They claimed this was “status discrimination” against them, not based on what the school did i.e. religious teaching.

These two positions are completely at odds. If you can’t discriminate against a religious school because it’s a status discrimination and what they actually do (teach religion) is not important, then how can the teachers in Lady of Guadalupe school be so integral to the religious teaching because that is the sole purpose of the school that they don’t come under Title VII, but the ministerial exemption to be fired at will by the church? Is the purpose of a religious school education (as they argued in Espinoza) or religion (as they argued in Lady of Guadalupe)? Again, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

The Secular Coalition has prepared a 37-page report outlining all of the 208 religious exemptions, special privileges, and harmful provisions in the Arizona state law from religious favoritism.  We hope to work with you and state legislators in a new legislature in 2021 to remove these attacks on our religious liberty.

Dianne Post

10/9/2020