Sep 29, 2022 - Politics

Arizona faith and political leaders talk religious freedom and human dignity

Illustration of a fragmented book cover showing different religious symbols.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Religious, political and legal leaders from Arizona and beyond gathered in downtown Phoenix on Monday to discuss how to work together to protect freedoms of people of all faiths and of those who aren't religious.

  • The Coalition on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom hosted the event at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor Law School.
  • Arizona Supreme Court justice Clint Bolick, House Speaker Rusty Bowers and the Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood of Arizona Faith Network were among the panelists.

State of play: Religion is the source of a lot of conflict, which has only been made worse in the current divisive nature of society, the panelists said.

  • There's conflict within and between faiths and there's tension between protecting religious freedoms and other First Amendment rights.

How we stack up: Bolick said that Arizona has even greater protection of religious liberty than the national protection enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Yes, but: He also said the current U.S. Supreme Court has the most expansive view of free exercise of religion of any court in the modern era.

1 big case: The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that a Phoenix ordinance that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination cannot be used to force calligraphers to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples.

  • The ruling was hailed as a victory for religious freedom advocates but was deeply unpopular among others who saw it as a green light for discrimination.
  • It created even more tension between religion and civil rights.

1 warning: Panelists of varying faiths encouraged people to stay away from weaponizing religion and pitting it against other freedoms, faiths or sects of the same faith.

What they're saying: "I do believe that there is a moral obligation for religious leaders to kind of have this role of being in the middle," said imam Omar Tawil of the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.

  • "The most effective representation of religious liberty is a representation that stands up for people of faith and people of no faith," said elder Michael Dunn of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Get smarter: The LDS church and LGBTQ-rights organizations worked together last year to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance in Mesa that outlawed discrimination based on both religion and sexual orientation.

  • "Most people assume we would be enemies, we would be in opposition," said Michael Soto of LQBTQ+ organization Equality Arizona. "But we don't have to choose that. We can choose to come together based on common values as Americans."

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