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Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press
Faith

Controversial and heavily debated Arizona bill was all about gays, or was it?

To opponents, the meaning of Arizona's now-vetoed State Bill 1062 was clear: The state was giving sanction for businesses and individuals to discriminate against homosexuals.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed the bill Wednesday evening, saying in part, "Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."

Brewer added, "I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want."

Media reports indicate that fears of economic consequences may have figured into Brewer's thinking.

"The measure prompted tourists to cancel reservations and companies to say they would locate elsewhere if it became law. Opponents said it threatened to reverse the economic recovery in a state among those hardest-hit by the housing crash, and cement a reputation fostered by a 2010 anti-immigration law, as well as a fight in the 1990s over celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday," according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine's website.

The notion that SB1062 would create a segregated class in Arizona, substituting gays for African-Americans who suffered under now-vanquished "Jim Crow" laws in many Southern states, received wide media attention.

"Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians because of religious beliefs," declared the New York Daily News. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, online, quoted the owner of that city's Major League Baseball franchise opposing the bill: "The Seattle Mariners came out against a proposed bill in Arizona that would allow businesses to deny service to customers based on sexual orientation. Team CEO Howard Lincoln released a statement Wednesday from the team, which has held spring training in the state for over three decades."

And the Dallas Morning News presented a recap of how the veto was achieved with this headline, "How Corporate America forced veto of Arizona anti-gay bill."

Except the bill wasn't proposed as an "anti-gay" measure. The words "gay," "homosexual," "lesbian" or "sexual orientation" are not found anywhere in the legislation's text. Instead, supporters positioned the bill as a means of clarifying and strengthening the state's version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, introduced by then-Rep. (and now U.S. Senator) Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., passed by the House and the Senate in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

But the lack of any reference to gays in the bill apparently didn't stop critics. The Huffington Post noted the "wildly different media reactions" to Brewer's veto: "Most media organizations took to Twitter and mobile alerts to report that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed an Arizona bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples on 'religious freedom' grounds. But the press had a wide-ranging choice of words when reporting the news."

The use of the words "religious freedom" in some media headlines drew the attention of journalism industry blogger Jim Romenesko, who said he got a "no comment" from The Wall Street Journal over a tweeted headline that said "Arizona governor vetoes religious freedom bill." The paper's online story now is headed, "Arizona Vetoes Religious Bill Criticized as Anti-Gay."

Veteran blogger Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, writing at The Federalist, declared some in the press as "Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell," a play on a now-famous Washington Post comment by then-staffer Michael Weisskopf that conservative Christians were "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command."

Hemingway writes, "In the aftermath of the abominable media coverage of Arizona’s religious liberty bill, an editor shared his hypothesis that journalists care about freedom of speech and of the press because they practice them. And journalists don’t care about freedom of religion because they don’t. But one of the most interesting things about modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general is that press freedom in America is rooted in religion."

As the blogger notes, a group of 11 law professors, including the University of Virginia's Douglas Laycock and Harvard's Mary Ann Glendon, wrote Brewer before the veto pointing out the facts of SB 1062: "So, to be clear: SB1062 does not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons. It says that business people can assert a claim or defense under RFRA, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision."

While the battle in Arizona is over, at least for the moment, many other state legislatures and/or voters have either considered or are weighing similar bills, making this a topic certain to be revisited in the coming months, as The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog notes.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com