The decision by Republican lawmakers approve a decision on a measure billed as promoting religious freedom is forcing Gov. Jan Brewer to choose between her desire to promote the state's economy and her own strong religious beliefs.
Brewer, who likely cannot run for reelection, is nurturing her legacy of what she has called the “Arizona Comeback.” The governor points to the close to 50,000 jobs a year being created since she took office in 2009.
But business and tourism interests warn that could evaporate in a nanosecond if she signs the measure that proponents have claimed simply protects religious freedom. That is because SB 1062 has become synonymous with the idea that it provides a license for people to deny services and products to others based on a claim that it would substantially interfere with their ability to practice their religion.
There already are signs that some companies considering relocating to Arizona will not come if the measure becomes law.
But there's another factor at work: Brewer's strong religious beliefs – and her belief that politicians should not park them at the door when they take office.
In a wide-ranging speech eight months after she took office in 2009, Brewer told a group of pastors of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church how she relies on her faith and in prayer to deal with many of the issues she faces as the state's chief executive. Brewer also said there are times when, during a meeting with staffers, one will suggest praying about an issue.
The governor also said she recognizes the difference between bringing her faith to the office and having an “agenda.”
“The problem with having a political agenda is that we give the impression that we have God's truth,” the governor said.
“We think we can convert God's truth into a political platform, a set of political issues, and that there is ‘God's way’ in our politics,” Brewer continued. “I don't believe that for a moment, any more than you believe that God's way is exclusively the Lutheran way.”
The governor said, though, she believes it is right – if not inevitable – that elected officials bring their faith to their offices.
Brewer quoted from “Faith and Politics,” a book by John Danforth, a former U.S. senator and ambassador to the United Nations, who also is an Episcopal priest.
“Danforth said, and I agree by the way, that it is important that we don't check our religion at the church door,” Brewer said. “We want to apply it to the rest of our lives.”
Brewer reminded her audience how she inherited the position after Janet Napolitano quit to take a job in the Obama administration.
“As with past challenges, tragedies or problems that I've had to confront, I first and foremost relied on my faith to guide me through, for I believe in the power of prayer,” she said. “And I firmly believe that God has placed me in this powerful position of Arizona's governor to help guide our state through the difficulty that we are currently facing.”
Brewer, in response to audience questions, said she has been “blessed because so many people of great faith” have helped her with their prayers.
“And that has caused me, of course, to be grateful that we are a country of Christianity,” she said.
“I don't think under the circumstances that anybody's in the position of living at this turbulent time, these terrible, critical times of our nation, can possibly get through without asking for help and guidance from Jesus Christ and from God,” the governor told the ministers.
Three years later, she signed legislation that allows companies that designate themselves as “religiously affiliated employers” to refuse to include contraception in their insurance coverage they provide workers. The legislation partly overturned a 2002 law prohibiting businesses that provide prescription drugs as part of their health-insurance plans from excluding birth control pills.
“In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving religious freedom to which we’re all constitutionally entitled,” Brewer said at the time in a prepared statement. “Mandating that a religious institution provide a service in direct contradiction with its faith would represent an obvious encroachment upon the First Amendment.”
That 2002 mandate always had had an exception for churches. Similarly, church-run charities that mainly serve people of the same faith were also exempt.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, had sought to grant that same right of refusal to any employer who claims a religious belief or moral objection to contraceptives. But the Senate rejected it, and Brewer voiced reservations.
The final version limits application of the law to an entity whose articles of incorporation “clearly state that it is a religiously motivated organization and whose religious beliefs are central to the organization's operating principles.”
The 2012 law does require all companies to pay for contraceptive drugs if they are being used for a reason other than birth control. In that case, though, a woman must first pay for the prescription of pocket and then provide proof of the medical reason to the employer's insurance company.
Nothing in the 2012 law prohibits workers in these companies from purchasing birth control on their own. But critics of the bill pointed out that the law contains no specific legal protections for a worker who is fired for making that personal choice.
Brewer has signed other measures with religious overtones, including a ban on abortion at 20 weeks and forbidding state family planning funds from going to any organization that also provides abortions. Both measures have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.