SACRAMENTO (ChurchMilitant.com) - The California bishops are rallying Golden State voters against an abortion lobbyist-sponsored bill targeting faith-based schools. The California Catholic Conference (CCC) is denouncing the measure because it would "directly infringe on the rights of religious organizations to uphold and advance their principles and beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage."
Assembly Bill (AB) 569 would bind the hands of religious institutions like churches, schools and colleges from upholding moral standards among their employees, effectively erasing "discriminatory" employee codes of conduct by barring employers from enforcing them.
"This is another in a long line of legislative proposals in California that seek to destroy religious liberty and drive the exercise of religion out of the public square," John Quincy Masteller, general counsel for Thomas Aquinas College, told Church Militant. "We fully support the stance the California Catholic Conference has taken in strongly opposing this dangerous legislation."
AB 569 prohibits employers from taking "adverse employment action" against staff based on "reproductive health care decisions." It also nullifies any code of conduct "that purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions, including the use of a particular drug, device, or medical service." In other words, if an employee at a Catholic school or church were to get an abortion, the diocese could not discipline or fire him.
"On the surface, the bill claims to seek legal protections from discrimination or retaliation for the 'reproductive decisions' of employees," The CCC explains in a position statement. "However, the bill does not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts. Those 'codes of conduct' — which are actually just standards and expectations set by an employer for the individuals it employs — bind religious employers and their employees in pursuit of good society."
The CCC "strongly opposes AB 569" as currently written, as the bill "targets religious employers who expect faithful public and workplace conduct by their employees, including those who teach at religious schools and are reasonably expected to model the principles of that faith."
Sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California, a subsidiary of the National Abortion Rights Action League, AB 569 was put forward by California 80th Assembly District Rep. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.
The San Diego Democrat characterizes herself as a very religious Catholic and personally pro-life. She also trumpets her 100-percent pro-abortion voting record.
Gonzalez Fletcher maintains she does not intend to "target religious institutions," but has designed her bill to counter what she describes as the "inherent sexism" of such codes of conduct. She amended AB 569 "to exempt ministers working for churches, but she said the bill will definitely apply to religious universities and other pro-life nonprofits."
"The bill would specifically deny religious employers our 1st Amendment protections to infuse our codes of conduct with the tenets of our faith," Sandra Palacios of the CCC observes.
Defenders of religious liberty are strongly condemning AB 569 for the threat it poses to religious liberty in the state.
Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council, concurs, noting,
Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practices what they preach. The right to freely exercise one's religion is enshrined in our Constitution, and has always protected every American's ability to freely associate around shared beliefs and practices. It is unconscionable for any politician to attempt to abridge this sacrosanct religious liberty by inserting themselves into the employee-employer relationship.
AB 569 is not the first punitive push against religious liberty to emerge in California recently. In 2016, openly gay Catholic Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced SB 1146, which aimed to deny Cal Grants to any university espousing Christian orthodoxy on gender and sexuality. SB 1146 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 30, 2016.