PHOENIX - State senators gave final approval Wednesday to legislation supporters say enhance religious freedom while foes contend it will let people use their beliefs as an excuse to discriminate.
The bill expands the situations under which someone can sue for claims their beliefs are infringed.
Senators also agreed to exempt some vacant land held by churches from property taxes.
And they agreed to let church-run schools and child-care centers refuse to provide unemployment benefits to their employees.
The most far-reaching of these three bills, all of which now go to Gov. Jan Brewer, could be the expansion of the state's existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Current law permits an individual to sue the government if he believes that a law, rule or regulation interferes with his right to practice his religion. It is then up to a court to decide if there was some infringement and, if so, whether it was legally justified.
SB 1178 would permit people to use the state law as a shield in disputes with others.
Josh Kredit, legislative counsel to the Center for Arizona Policy, said a case in New Mexico, which has a similar law, shows why a change is needed.
There, a professional photographer was sued under the anti-discrimination provision in state law for refusing to photograph the commitment ceremony of a same-sex couple.
SB 1178 would permit someone in a similar situation to use the Arizona law to justify in court his refusal to do something as a violation of religious beliefs.