Brewer vetoes religious freedom bill over loopholes - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Brewer vetoes religious freedom bill over loopholes

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Posted: Monday, April 11, 2011 9:18 pm

Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation designed to shield people from being disciplined professionally because of their religious views, at least in part over the issue of polygamy.

The governor, in her first veto of the session, said she does not believe people should have to choose between their religious beliefs and their professions. And Brewer said she recognizes that SB 1288 has provisions which do not immunize criminal activities or sexual misconduct based on someone's beliefs.

But she said there are still too many loopholes.

"This bill could protect conduct that harms the public but cannot be readily addressed if the person claims that the conduct is based on religious beliefs,'' she wrote in her veto message.

Brewer said her main concern is language that would bar the state from denying, suspending or revoking an individual's professional or occupational license based on someone's free exercise of religion. She said that "could provide a mechanism for abuse.''

The governor cited no examples. But her office made public a letter she got from the head of the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board pointing up one potential problem.

"Polygamy is prohibited by the Arizona constitution but it is not criminal conduct in Arizona,'' wrote Lyle Mann, executive director of the organization which decides who can -- and cannot -- be a peace officer in the state. He said three police officers have had their certification revoked because they practice polygamy.

But Mann said the problem is deeper than simply having multiple wives.

He said AzPOST revoked certification of two other officers in the polygamous community of Colorado City. He said the pair had corresponded with Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, while Jeffs was a fugitive, but refused to provide information that might have helped locate him.

"They claimed that their protection of the fugitive was a religious practice,'' Mann wrote to the governor.

"Under this law, it could be argued that following the direction of the church, rather than the constitution and code of ethics, is a right and the state may not intervene to protect its citizens from what appeared to be a church-controlled police force,'' Mann said.

Brewer promised her "full cooperation and participation'' in crafting a more acceptable form of the legislation next session.''

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