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Arizona: Religion v. Discrimination; Gov. Brewer Statement 7:45PM ET

Aired February 26, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, what's more important? Protecting freedom or preventing discrimination?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not about gay rights or gay discrimination.

ANNOUNCER: Arizona's governor has to decide. And the pressure's building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Veto, veto, veto!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Veto, veto, veto!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Veto, veto, veto!

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Neera Tanden, who is against Arizona's freedom of religion Bill, and Peter Sprigg, who supports it. What should government do if religious freedom lets some people discriminate? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests on opposite sides of Arizona's religious freedom Bill.

We have some breaking news. Both Major League Baseball and the NFL are playing intense pressure on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer tonight. The MLB just released this statement: "MLB will neither support for tolerate any word, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game."

There are also reports today that, if Brewer does not veto this Bill, the NFL might move the 2015 Super Bowl out of Arizona.

Now look, I'm a Republican. I'm for religious liberty. I am not for this Bill. I think it goes too far. But it does raise important questions, not just about religious freedoms but market freedom, and the government should not compel business owners to provide services to everyone, no matter what. And if you think I'm wrong, I bet I can change your mind tonight. JONES: Well, you're pretty persuasive, but you're up against a big tide of public opinion on this particular set of issues. We're going to get into it tonight.

In the CROSSFIRE, we've got Neera Tanden. She is against the Arizona Bill. We also have Peter Sprigg who supports it.

First to you. I mean, this is pretty big news. You talked about, you know, national baseball, football, millions of fans. Haven't you at this point lost the country? What does this say to you?

PETER SPRIGG, SUPPORTS ARIZONA BILL: Well, it says to me that there's never been a Bill in the -- in the 40-plus years I've been following American politics that has been subject to so much misinformation as this simple Bill from Arizona.

JONES: So people are just confused about it, is that your point?

SPRIGG: Absolutely.

JONES: All the Republicans who are now against this, all of the leaders who are against it, they just somehow didn't read the two-page Bill?

CUPP: What do people have wrong, Peter?

SPRIGG: What people have wrong is this Bill is not fundamentally about sexual orientation. It's about religious liberty. It builds on an existing concept that's been established, both in federal law and in Arizona law, for a long time.

It was over 20 years ago that the Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Supreme Court later ruled that that couldn't apply to the states, and so many states, including Arizona -- Arizona is only one of 18 states that have adopted these type of laws. This is a minor amendment to that law.

JONES: Would you please educate our friend why this bill is so obnoxious and horrible.

NEERA TANDEN, OPPOSES ARIZONA BILL: You know, I do -- I do appreciate that it actually has bland language, but what it will really do is say to folks that you can deny services. You can deny serving someone because you believe that it's wrong to serve gay and lesbian folks.

And that's why John McCain, Senator McCain, Senator flake, both Republican senators in Arizona, have said, "Let's not do this. Veto this Bill."

So it's -- I really disagree that the local chamber of commerce, all these local chamber of commerce, all these companies -- Marriott, Apple -- are coming out against this law, because they're misinformed. They know what this law will do. It will create an intolerant atmosphere for gay and lesbian folks in Arizona, and Arizona should say no. SPRIGG: Well, first of all, Arizona does not currently include sexual orientation as a protected category under either employment discrimination laws or public accommodation laws, so this is the status quo. This does nothing whatsoever to change the status quo of the law in Arizona.

CUPP: Neera, let me -- let me -- I've said I think this bill goes too far. So let's shelf that for a minute.

The problem I have, and I think what needs to be discussed in a broader sense, is a slippery slope. Right? If you follow this to its logical conclusion, there are some steps along the way that I think we could analyze. I'm going to run a few scenarios by you. And I want you to tell me where you stand on these scenarios.

For example, this came up in New Jersey not long ago. Should a baker be forced to write "Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler" on a birthday cake?

TANDEN: So I think this is a really important issue. These -- there's nothing in the law that says that a baker has to change his menu or her menu to address the needs of a customer.

SPRIGG: So -- so you agree that they should not be forced to participate in communicating a message they disagree, such as the celebration of a same-sex union?

TANDEN: No, this is the thing. This is what I think is the basic issue here, which is I believe lesbian and gay, bisexual --

CUPP: No, no, no. I know, I know.

TANDEN: I know this is cable, but I'd like to just get a second to answer.

CUPP: Sure. Maybe you'll answer my question.

TANDEN: I believe these folks are people who do not choose -- they are who they are. Maybe not choose. It's not a decision; it's not a viewpoint.

CUPP: I agree with you.

TANDEN: That's a different issue.

CUPP: Right.

TANDEN: That's why it's one thing to say to somebody, you know, "I disagree with what you're saying. I find it obnoxious. I want to address that."

CUPP: So the baker should -- ?

TANDEN: As a -- as a -- yes, I think a baker should say, "I think this is obnoxious. I don't want to deal with it."

CUPP: OK. Let me move to another one. TANDEN: -- gay or lesbians.

CUPP: What about gay bars that don't allow bachelorette parties to celebrate other businesses? Isn't that discriminatory?

TANDEN: You know, I think what's interesting about this is I think some of these decisions should be left up to companies or businesses to what they want to do.

CUPP: Right.

TANDEN: But the reason why we're concerned about something as expansive -- expansive as this is because we're saying you're taking this law and you're allowing it to discriminate, just like 50 years ago people could have said, "You know what? I just don't like African-Americans."

CUPP: Right.

TANDEN: And I don't like interracial -- and I don't like interracial couples.

CUPP: Let me ask you about one more.

TANDEN: So I want to say, I want to say we can discriminate against them. And you're absolutely right; there weren't protections for that.

CUPP: But let me ask you about one more, because there's protection -- protective class for women, and there are women's-only gyms like Curves. That's, for sure, discriminatory, but I certainly like having those options.

TANDEN: But women are a protected class. That's exactly why they're allowed to have those.

SPRIGG: But gender is a protected class.

TANDEN: But women are -- as you know in civil rights law, women are a protected class so you can have women's colleges, for example.

CUPP: And women private businesses.

TANDEN: And women-only gyms, et cetera, because women are a protected class. It's, you know, saying that women have -- we should protect women is something the civil rights laws --

JONES: Let me just say a couple things. First of all, this is tough for America. And we -- let's be honest here. We're trying to figure out some balances here that are very, very difficult, some values here that are very important. I want to --

CUPP: It's not as black and white.

JONES: It's tough. It's tough.

CUPP: It is.

JONES: But this cuts home for me, and I want to get your counsel here. I tried to get the guy we had on last night to answer this question. He couldn't do it or wouldn't do it. I think you can do it.

Look, I'm a religious person. You're a religious person, but people can use religion to cover up a bunch of stuff.

When I was growing up they said God separated the races, and therefore, segregation is biblically required. I heard that as a child. Now, we said, "We don't care what you say about God and separating races. We're going to tell you you can't put up those 'No blacks allowed' signs."

What is the difference now between putting up a sign that says "No blacks allowed" and "No gays allowed"? If somebody is religiously convicted, you wouldn't want them to put up that "No blacks allowed" sign. Why should they put up a "No gays allowed" sign?

SPRIGG: Well, first of all, the overall framework should be the default position should be one of liberty. You've alluded to this. That in the free market --

JONES: Absolutely.

SPRIGG: People, both consumers and businesses, should be able to mutually consent to engage in commercial transactions.

JONES: Absolutely.

SPRIGG: And that should be our default position. So nondiscrimination laws, quote, unquote, should be a narrowly carved exception to this overarching principle of liberty. Now --

JONES: I agree with you, but you agree with me to say that you don't mean that liberty doesn't include liberty to discriminate against blacks? You agree with that?

SPRIGG: I agree with that. Race is one category in which we have made that exception. We've made it for a couple of reasons. One, because of a constitutional foundation. This country has three constitutional amendments, 13th, 14th and 15th amendments that were adopted following the Civil War primarily to eliminate discrimination based on race. There are no similar constitutional amendments based on sexual orientation.

JONES: So you have no problem with signs going up in America, "We don't serve your kind here," "No gays allowed"?

SPRIGG: Well, first, let me come back to the nature of this bill. The bill doesn't say that you can put up a sign saying, "No gays allowed." The bill says that you can assert a -- if you are facing coercion by the government, you can assert a religious liberty right against that government coercion.

JONES: Would you be on the side of that store owner that put that sign up? Would you be OK with that sign?

SPRIGG: No, I would -- I would not support putting up a sign like that. But what I think is wise and what I think should be illegal, what I think the government should coerce somebody to do are two different things.

And the bill would say that, if you feel there's a conflict between a government policy and your sincere religious belief, you can assert that as a defense against that action, but the burden rests on you to demonstrate, A, that it's based on a religious belief, that the religious belief is sincere, and that there is a substantial burden placed upon you.

Once you've -- only once you've satisfied that burden, which is a high one, does the burden shift to the government, and then they have to demonstrate a compelling government interest. If they can demonstrate a compelling government interest, then they can override the religious freedom.

TANDEN: It's not just the government. I mean --

JONES: Real quick.

TANDEN: -- a person can just choose to discriminate, say, "I don't want to serve this person," and they're protected if they say it's based on a religious view. So I understand the interest to bring in the government into this, but sometimes these people can just make a decision on their own. The government's not saying anything, and then they're discriminating.

JONES: Hold it right here. We're actually going to be talking about this for a little bit more. I want to surprise you. I'm going to shock you; I'm going to shock everybody at home. When we come back, I'm going to explain why today's Republicans should learn a lesson about gay rights from, of all people, Ronald Reagan. When we get back.


JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got people on the opposite sides of Arizona's so-called religious freedom bill.

Look, another day has gone by, and Governor Brewer still has not vetoed this thing. Now look, the pressure is building from everywhere, but the silence from her office deafening and not just from the governor. Where are all these big-name Republicans who want to be president? Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, hello? They have totally disappeared. Are they for this Bill but they're afraid to say so? Are they against it, but they're afraid to say that?

Guys, you can't lead the free world if you're going to chicken out on major issues like this. Here's my advice. Be courageous, like Ronald Reagan.

CUPP: Say that again.

JONES: Be courageous, like Ronald Reagan.

CUPP: Thank you.

JONES: Back in 1978 he joined the fight against a nutty ballot initiative that would have banned gay teachers in California. That anti-gay measure actually lost and two years later the Gipper went to the White House. I'm just saying.

Now, sir, does it bother you that you've heard nothing from champions who love to snuggle up to you, they want a good rating from you, but they're completely missing in action? Does it offend you to not hear anything from your presidential front-runners in the Republican Party?

SPRIGG: Well, when there's so much misinformation about this out there, I can understand them not wanting to jump into the fray on something that is a state issue not a federal issue. If it was a federal law --

CUPP: People from that state are not talking about it, or --

JONES: John McCain has come out the other way.

CUPP: Or come out to oppose it.


CUPP: Let me ask you this. You supported -- I'm sorry, Senator Flake, you gave him a 100 percent rating. Flake has now abandoned you to the wolves and is now saying this is a horrible, horrible bill. How do you feel about that?

SPRIGG: Well, I'm upset about it. I think that he's making a mistake and he's responding to the furor in the media rather than looking at the actual bill and the principles. You know, can I respond to what you said about Ronald Reagan? Because that law that he came out that would have banned gay teacher, OK, that would have banned any gay person from serving as a teacher in any public school in the state of California.

This law in Arizona does not ban gay people from hiring wedding photographers or hiring bakers to bake wedding cakes for them. I'm sure they'd have no problem finding someone to serve them and take their money.

CUPP: Well, let me --

SPRIGG: It's not the one who objects based on conscience is going to be coerced by government to act against their conscience.

CUPP: Let me go to Neera on the flip side of the point that Van was making.


CUPP: Where are all the Republican leaders? Where is President Obama on this? President Obama released a press statement this week on the death of Harold Ramis. We all loved in "Ghostbusters", but has not found time to comment on this piece of legislation?

TANDEN: I mean, do you think that there are people in America who are confused about his position on this issue? I think the issue --

CUPP: Well, he just evolved on it last year. So, certainly, I think they are.

TANDEN: No, that was same sex marriage. Not support -- not for discrimination against --


CUPP: Why wouldn't he come out and talk about this, Neera?

TANDEN: I think this is a great issue, which I think the question is, what is going to be the most effective thing to get Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, a person he doesn't have the greatest relationship with --

CUPP: Yes.

TANDEN: -- to say no. And I think if the White House -- I mean, it's my suspicion is if the White House thought it would help her for President Obama to come out against it, it would help her do it, then he would absolutely do it.

I think the issue is she's facing pressure from the extreme right in Arizona and probably hearing President Obama come out for it --


CUPP: He's the leader of the country. I think he should come out on this. But let me also just flip this around just again.

Van just listed a whole host of Republicans who either have not talked about this or have condemned this. He laments this fact but finally it seems that Republicans have learned how not to reflexively defend bad legislation. Doesn't this worry you -- I know it worries Van -- does this worry you the Republicans are finally learning the better strategy on these issues?

TANDEN: Not at all. Because if it means like more tolerance and more support for LGBT rights over the long term, I want Republicans to do it. I don't think it's good for the country that Republicans in the past supported a federal marriage amendment or opposed gay rights. I think that's the wrong position. And, you know, so obviously --

CUPP: Where are the Republicans on this?

TANDEN: I absolutely Senator McCain, Senator Flake --

CUPP: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich --


TANDEN: S.E. Cupp, I congratulate. CUPP: Thank you.

SPRIGG: About the Obama administration, I haven't heard anything from President Obama on this, but I did read today that Secretary of State John Kerry came out against this bill, even though he's the secretary of state and this is strictly a domestic affairs issue.

Now, I would be happier if Secretary Kerry would spend more time defending religious liberty abroad rather than attacking it at home. For example, he's spoken against this Arizona bill, but I don't know that he's said anything about the 58 Nigerians who were slaughtered by Islamist militants yesterday, which got a little two-paragraph mention in "The Washington Post."

JONES: First of all, I actually want to thank you for raising that, because I do think there actually is real religious persecution of Christians around the world and we need to talk about that.

But one thing I'm concerned about here in our context, you and your organization are presenting this whole thing as if this Christian community in this country is coming under this massive assault, and yet now, I think you have to change your position. You have Christians rushing to this side, you have Mormons rushing to this side.

Wouldn't you at least concede now this is not about the Christians being set upon by anti-Christians, this is now a fight among Christians that this is a bad bill? Wouldn't you concede that?

SPRIGG: No, I wouldn't concede that.

I would say there are some Christians who are fearful as the politicians are of the kind of harassment and vitriolic attacks that they suffer whenever they take any position in opposition to homosexual agenda.

JONES: Look, I'm a Christian. You know, 40 percent of Protestants support marriage equality. I don't think that this line that is often put out there by folks like yourself, that all Christians are on this side, and everybody is against us is against Christianity, against religion, I think that's not fair to Christians like myself.

Do you agree with that?

SPRIGG: Well, I think when we're looking at something like this, it's dealing with the exercise of religious liberty on the part of an individual. Every individual has the right to respond to what their conscience tells them that their religious demand -- their religion demands.

JONES: Absolutely.

SPRIGG: So there may be Christians who will not make the same decision in terms of what the implications are.

JONES: My -- listen, your organization is incredibly respectful and incredibly powerful. I'm just making the plea that for those of us who are also people of faith who don't agree, it just feels awful when you actually pretend that we are anti-Christian because we don't agree.

SPRIGG: Well, see, I definitely believe there should be religious liberty for pro-homosexual people of faith and I think there should be at least as equal religious liberty for people who disapprove of homosexuality.

CUPP: Andrew Sullivan, who is a prominent gay rights activist, recently made a great point. Here's what he wrote. He said, "The idea of suing these businesses to force them to provide services they're clearly uncomfortable providing is anathema to me. I think it should be repellent to the gay rights movement as well."

Is forcing someone to agree with you, forcing something to get on your side, is that really the best way to change hearts and minds?

TANDEN: I think this is a really important distinction, right? Because it's whether you sue somebody to do something versus saying, you know what, you have the sanction of law to say I don't like you because you are LGBT, it offends me that you're a gay couple and so even though you want to come to my hotel, I'm going to say no because you're a gay couple. It offends me.

So I think that these issues are important to litigate and that that's the wrong thing to do. That in a tolerant society, we should be welcoming. We do have real challenges of bullying and other things that people are really suffering in the LGBT community.


Stay here. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Should businesses be allowed to refuse service based on religious beliefs? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of day and I'm outraged because President Obama is ignoring the people he needs the most. Stay tuned.


CUPP: Breaking news: CNN has just learned that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will speak to the media and the public at 7:45 Eastern tonight. She'll be addressing the controversial religious freedom bill that we've been discussing here tonight.

Let's bring back Neera Tanden and Peter Sprigg.

Rumors have been that she's going to veto this bill. Do you think under the new pressure from the NFL, the MLB, that's what she's going to say tonight?

TANDEN: Yes, I hope she'll say it because she doesn't want Arizona to be an outlier in the country, she wants it to be a place where people feel comfortable and because it's an inclusive place, she's going to veto the bill. I think maybe the Super Bowl had something to do with it.

CUPP: Well, she's been saying -- well, I've heard -- I've heard from some folks that she shouldn't just say for economic reasons that she's vetoing it.

Does her reason for vetoing it, if she does, does that matter to you, Peter?

SPRIGG: Well, I don't think she should veto it. I think she should sign the bill. I think she should have the courage to stand up against all the bullying and blackmail that she's being subjected to.

Probably the best thing would be to explain as I tried to explain at the beginning of the program, the history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what it really provides, and importantly, the fact that it first of all doesn't apply to sexual orientation issues. This actually arose because of the controversy over the HHS mandate and companies being forced to pay for medical procedures that offend their conscience, and she should --

JONES: Different show.


JONES: That's a different show.

SPRIGG: And she should explain the history of this bill and that it does not -- this bill does not decide what the outcome of any particular dispute will be, it just establishes a rule for analyzing it.

CUPP: Well, let's check in on our "Fireback" results. Should businesses be allowed to refuse service based on religious beliefs?

Right now, 23 percent of you say yes, 77 percent of you say no.

Neera, you agreed with me earlier on the show that there should be times when a business can refuse service, that it's not necessarily black and white? Do those results kind of fall in line, 20/70?

TANDEN: Yes, I'm actually -- I'm actually surprised that there are so many people who really support the ability to not be discriminated against for any of these reasons. I was a little surprised by that. So --

JONES: How do you feel about it?

SPRIGG: Well, it's interesting. When you use a blanket term like refuse services, I think that people react negatively to that. I think if you ask the more specific question as we did in a poll last year --

CUPP: During the show.

SPRIGG: Given the specific scenario, for example, of the wedding photographer in New Mexico and so forth, our poll actually showed that 85 percent of the American public felt that those business people should have the opportunity.

JONES: I want to thank you both for being here, Neera Tanden and Peter Sprigg.

The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us from another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.