Among the first bills moving through the (Arizona) Legislature this session is one that would provide significant new religious protections, some say to the point of legalizing discrimination.

Senate Bill 1062, pushed by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and introduced by Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit filed by another individual.

Specifically, the bill proposes to:

– Expand the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion;

– Allow someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings;

– Expand those protected under the state’s free exercise of religion law to ‘any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”

Proponents say the bill would, for example, protect a wedding photographer who declined to take photos of a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony due to the photographer’s religious beliefs.

Opponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.

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