Law & the Courts

California’s Abortion-Obsessed Progressives Contemplate a Grave Assault on Religious Liberty

David Duleiden’s ordeal at the hands of the California attorney general is hardly the only California threat to the First Amendment. Because abortion is paramount to some progressives — and religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of association hardly worth mentioning by comparison — the California Assembly is currently pondering a bill that would directly infringe on the rights of religious organizations to uphold and advance their principles and beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage. The relevant text of AB-569 follows:

An employer shall not do either of the following:

(1) Take any adverse employment action against an employee based on the use of any drug, device, or medical service related to reproductive health by an employee or employee’s dependent.

(2) Require an employee to sign a waiver or other document 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.

(b) An employer that provides an employee handbook to its employees shall include in the handbook notice of the employee rights and remedies under this section.

(c) For purposes of this section, “adverse employment action” includes, but is not limited to, termination, demotion or refusal to promote or advance, loss of career specialty, reassignment to a different shift, reduction of hours, reduction of wages or benefits, refusal to provide training opportunities or transfer to a different department, adverse administrative action, or any other penalty or disciplinary or retaliatory action.

To put this in plain English, it prevents religious organizations (including colleges and schools) from imposing entirely normal and conventional rules of Christian conduct. If you have any doubt regarding the bill’s purpose, look no further than the supporting statement from NARAL Pro-Choice California, which singles out exclusively religious employers as the villains opposing “women’s health.” Here is NARAL’s list of alleged injustices that it believes the bill will combat:

Financial aid specialist Teri James was fired from San Diego Christian College in 2012 for becoming pregnant while unmarried.

In 2015, the Archbishop of San Francisco added a morality clause to teacher contracts that condemned same-sex relationships, premarital sex, sperm donation and assisted reproductive technologies. The Diocese of Santa Rosa dropped a similar plan after facing backlash.

Emily Herx was fired from her teaching job at a Catholic school in Indiana for using in vitro fertilization.

In 2014, after an anonymous letter revealed her pregnancy, unmarried middle school teacher Shaela Evenson was fired by a Catholic school district in Montana for having sex outside of marriage. She was fired despite her 10 year career at the school and the fact that the principal called her an “excellent teacher.”

What do all those examples have in common? They represent Christian organizations applying orthodox Christian theology to employees who voluntarily work at the institution. No one is conscripted into teaching at Catholic schools. Under the text of this bill, a dean of students at a Christian school could violate the terms of her employment agreement, get pregnant out of wedlock, abort the child and not suffer the slightest job consequences — even if it’s her job to live by the values she is supposed to advance. 

The bill is flatly unconstitutional in any reasonable jurisdiction, but California is in the Ninth Circuit, so it’s always better to defeat bills in committee rather than test them in court. The good folks at the California Family Council are mobilizing to oppose the bill. Not all progressives are as dismissive of the First Amendment as the pro-abortion radicals, and conservatives can still win victories by appealing to constitutional tradition, fundamental fairness, and respect for civil liberties. California conservatives ought to know. They’ve done it before

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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