Longform

Cathi Herrod's Center for Arizona Policy Hates Gays, Abortions, and Likes to Tell Politicians What to Do

Days after Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and others based on a business owner's "sincerely held" religious beliefs, Cathi Herrod retreated to the studio of a friendly TV talking head: fellow conservative, former pastor, and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

The theme of that episode of the Fox News show Huckabee might have been summed up as, "What's all the fuss about?"

Huckabee compared the bill's language with that of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton to set a high bar for the government's ability to burden the free exercise of religion.

For example, the RFRA is one reason Native Americans aren't prohibited from using the hallucinogenic plant peyote in religious ceremonies.

Arizona passed its own version of the RFRA in 1999, Huckabee explained, and what Herrod's Center for Arizona Policy proposed with 1062 was a "very relative minor change to a bill that was non-controversial in 1999, [and] 1993 at the federal level."

The bill would've allowed a kosher deli to refuse to cater an event with bacon-wrapped shrimp, Huckabee claimed. Though how a customer would compel any business against its will to serve bacon-wrapped shrimp is perhaps known only to the Fox host.

Of course, Herrod agreed, claiming an unnamed "small minority" was able to make hay out of it.

"The [governor's] veto was really for a bill that didn't exist," Herrod told Huckabee in her lisping, child-like voice.

The law would have protected businesses from having to "forgo their religious beliefs" in the marketplace: Like the baker who didn't want to make a cake for a gay wedding or, as in a famous New Mexico case, a photographer who didn't want to shoot a same-sex wedding.

Never discussed was that New Mexico has a law protecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community from discrimination, though Arizona doesn't.

Discrimination against gays in Arizona is legal, except in cities such as Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson, which have adopted ordinances protecting LGBT people.

Significantly, Herrod also mentioned the Hobby Lobby chain as a company that would be affected.

Three weeks after Brewer's veto, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases dealing with the same issues as 1062, one of them involving Hobby Lobby's Christian owners, who object to providing certain types of birth control under the Affordable Care Act because they believe that such forms of birth control induce abortions.

Since Herrod's appearance on Huckabee, Salon.com has reported that the Center for Arizona Policy received generous donations from a foundation backed by Hobby Lobby's owners.

Huckabee didn't inquire about a pecuniary motive for Herrod. However, he did ask if Herrod was a homophobe, a hater. Did she want to see people "destroyed or discriminated against"?

No on all counts, Herrod replied, rarely blinking her wide-open eyes. She just wanted all Americans, "whether you have faith or no faith," to be able to "live out our convictions."

This indirect reply to Huckabee's question was disingenuous. In fact, the Center for Arizona Policy is a throwback to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. It's a juggernaut of theocracy, intent on imposing its beliefs on public policy and making Republican politicians in Arizona march in lockstep with CAP's war on gays, women, pornography, and public education.

Herrod's organization does this by combining political power with religious zealotry, perpetual lobbying, and successful fundraising efforts that put nearly $2 million in its kitty in 2011.

A network of churches and church-goers at CAP's beck and call also helps, as does the group's genius for messaging, which turns religious bigotry into religious liberty and a constant battle against abortion into a concern for women's health.

SB 1062 revealed the chinks in CAP's armor and created fresh wounds. But history and the underlying political reality of Arizona argues against the group's political demise.


During the lead-up to CAP's 1062 debacle, CNN anchor John Berman grilled Cathi Herrod on his morning show, asking her repeatedly whether, based on the language of the bill, a gay couple could be denied access to a restaurant.

Herrod dodged the question. But the guy doing her bidding in the Legislature, state Senator Steve Yarbrough, a primary sponsor of SB 1062, had no problem answering a similar query.

In mid-January, Yarbrough replied in the affirmative when Capitol Media Services reporter Howard Fischer wondered about possible 1062-inspired acts of bigotry.

Fischer paraphrased Yarbrough's admitting the legislation "could also be interpreted" as "allowing motel operators with vacant rooms to refuse to rent to gays."

Indeed, a year earlier, Herrod and CAP had lobbied hard against a Phoenix ban on discrimination in public accommodations toward LGBTers.

The ordinance passed the Phoenix City Council 5 to 3, over the objections of naysayers such as Herrod, who suggested that the "bathroom bill," as it was tagged, would be a green flag for sexual predators.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons