Ever wonder why Arizona’s Republican legislators pass religiously based bills such as SB 1062?

The first reason is the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20), the directive from Jesus to his disciples to Christianize the world. Passing biblically based laws and public policies fulfills this obligation for these elected officials. They see no problem affirming higher allegiance to scripture than to their oath of office. They would no doubt agree with the oft-quoted line “The Great Commission is not ‘The Great Suggestion,’” feeling privileged to be able to legislate their faith to the masses.

This transparent conflict of interest — this egregious breach of public trust — is seldom challenged by thoughtful Arizonans. This is baffling.

The second reason is the “Cathi Commission.” This is the directive from Cathi Herrod to her Republican legislator disciples to Christianize Arizona. Herrod heads the powerful fundamentalist/evangelical lobbying group Center for Arizona Policy, which wants only (its kind of) godly people to serve in government. Republican politicians know either to support CAP’s biblically based agenda ─ that all legislation conforms to fundamentalist Christianity — or look for another job.

As detailed recently in the Arizona Daily Star (“Religious AZ lobby not used to losing,” March 2), CAP’s influence, especially over Republican lawmakers, is stunning.

Herrod boasts on her website: “Since 1995, 123 Center for Arizona Policy-supported bills have been signed into law. 60 in the last five years alone!” To secularists especially, this statistic is outrageous and chilling.

After the Center for Arizona Policy generates the bills to advance its theology, the large and well-heeled Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom group provides legal guidance and support. CAP and ADF have become experts at strategies to impose their uncompromising religious beliefs in Arizona.

The work of this powerful combination is a reality check and a much-needed wake-up call to those who think preposterous and unworkable religiously based ideas cannot actually become laws and public policies.

Beliefs are personal

The religion clause of our federal Constitution’s First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

While reinterpretation of the establishment part has its own faith-driven proponents, it is the free-exercise part that has been co-opted by Cathi’s crusaders for intolerance to mean unchecked “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” — lofty words to justify “religious discrimination” against those deemed sinful by individuals claiming to know the “truth.”

Clear-thinking people insist that scriptural directives that are completely lacking in secular justification and purpose should never be the basis for laws and public policies.

“Sincere religious beliefs” are personal and must not interfere with or be imposed on a pluralistic society guided by secular state and federal constitutions.

Legislative decision-making must not reflect religious views that are often cloaked under the otherwise respectable banner of “values and principles” ─ which, as in the case of SB 1062, would have allowed lawful discrimination against gays and other Americans.

Like it or not, for governance, elected officials must hold their oath of office more “sacred” than their religion. There must be no conflict of interest regarding the exclusive secular responsibility of law and policy makers to the public they serve. Only those individuals who understand these caveats should have the honor, privilege and trust to hold public office.

Herrod claims secularists never want “an honest discussion about the true meaning of religious liberty.” FreeThought Arizona therefore requests that educational, community and faith leaders, the media, CAP/ADF and our legislators jointly sponsor discussions and debates on the appropriate role of religion in Arizona. Relevant questions would include: What non-Biblical reasons justify discrimination based on sexual orientation? Why should citizens be bound to obey or respect laws that are based solely on a group’s religion, or on any religion? How are laws based solely on Christian fundamentalist beliefs different from sharia law imposed by the Taliban? Should there be public restraints on religious liberty?

FreeThought Arizona also urges voters to get involved in the primaries when faith-driven politicians have the best chance to become their party’s nominees.

While Christians at CAP are entitled to evangelize, they are not entitled to unduly influence government officials to violate their oath of office by enacting laws and public policies based primarily on religious beliefs.

Our lives and liberties must not be controlled by such irrationality.

Gil Shapiro, a Tucson podiatrist, is the spokesman for FreeThought Arizona. Email him at gdshapiro@comcast.net