Backlash To State's Religious Freedom Bill Already Starting

By  KJZZ News
February 21, 2014

(Photo courtesy of GPEC)
Barry Broome of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

There has been mixed public reaction to a religious freedom bill that has sparked controversy. SB 1062 would give some protection to businesses and individuals who refuse service to someone based on religious beliefs, but critics say the bill will sanction discrimination against gay people and hurt the state economically. 

Prominent members of the local business community are calling on Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the bill, including the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of GPEC, said the controversy will complicate the state’s brand, just as it is gearing up to host next year’s Super Bowl. After all, when Arizona passed its immigration law SB 1070 there was a backlash, including boycotts of the state, and he said businesses are concerned.

"The potential litigation threats to the state, the costs to taxpayers, the potential litigation to businesses," Broome said. "It's immeasurable the damage a bill like this could do to Arizona."

Arizona State University Professor Kathleen Andereck said this bill would have the same negative effect on the state that the immigration enforcement bill and the refusal to make a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday did. She studies tourism at ASU.

“And it will happen again. There is really no doubt about it. There will be some people who decide not to come here as individuals, but there will also be meetings that will not be booked here specifically because of this legislation," Andereck said.

Andereck said people do not want to come to places they are not wanted or do not feel welcome.

Broome said he has already heard from businesses that have reconsidered Arizona as a location.

"One company that dropped us this morning was considering investing up to 1,000 jobs, and the HR director of the company told me and the CEO they could not in good conscience relocate people into this market," Broome said.

Those negotitiations were private, and there was no way for KJZZ to independently verify.

Supporters of the bill say business owners should be in favor of this legislation, since it will allow them to live by their religious values. 

"I would encourage businesses to look at it from an opposite viewpoint, that Arizona should be a state that respects and values diversity of religious beliefs, that Arizona is a state that respects the religious faith of all individuals," said Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, who crafted the measure. "And we are a state that is open to enabling business owners and individuals to live out their faith."

The bill passed the legislature Thursday and it is now up to Gov. Brewer to sign or veto the bill. She has not yet said if she will sign it into law.

KJZZ's Jude Joffe-Block and Alexandra Olgin contributed to this story.

Updated 2/21/2014 4:01 p.m.