Criminalizing Conscience

It came down to the wire, but those who love religious freedom and take their right to honor God seriously, successfully beat back a harmful bill in California last week. What has played out in California over the last several months is a lesson in perseverance, but it also foreshadows battles that could come to Arizona in the not-too-distant future.

California Senate Bill 1146 would have forced religious universities in California to abandon biblical teachings about human sexuality or lose state-funded scholarships for lower-income students.

After months of grassroots opposition from California and around the country from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, California legislators agreed to remove the problematic language. The author of the bill said he would try again next session.

It’s pretty amazing how quickly we got here, to a place in society where those of faith are to be silenced by the loud and powerful few; where one’s conscience counts only if it reflects the extreme views of the political elite.

How can a Christian university that feels called to promote Biblical values and hold true to its mission be forced to abandon that mission or risk closing its doors? Is that where we are going? So it seems.

At the root of SB 1146 is California’s statewide sexual orientation and gender identity “nondiscrimination” law. Here in Arizona, five cities have passed versions of these laws that effectively use the power of government to punish rights of conscience. Business owners must embrace, even partake in the celebrations of a same-sex wedding or face legal action. We’re not talking about refusing to serve someone; we’re talking about being forced to participate in an event that conflicts with one’s religious beliefs.

At least three more cities are considering such laws: Mesa, Glendale, and Scottsdale.

A local Scottsdale paper questioned city council candidates on the issue just last week. The framing of the questions was quite leading, and there was no talk of protecting religious conscience. No discussion of how these laws also open up bathrooms and other sex-segregated facilities to anyone regardless of their biological sex.

These and other elected officials are embracing a solution that is in search of a problem. There is no widespread discrimination that needs addressing in Arizona. No one believes people should be discriminated against. But the details of the law can mean religious organizations and religious schools must forego their mission with regard to biblical teaching and even be required to allow boys and girls to share all rest rooms, locker rooms, and showers.

It could mean a Christian school cannot require employees to abide by a statement of faith. These laws could also prohibit private school curriculum from teaching a biblical view of sexuality.

Just like with SB 1146, Arizona Christian schools and churches should not assume they are or always will be exempt from these far-reaching laws, and the trend we’ve seen is that any exemptions are being quickly whittled down.

Look no further than Sedona’s law. The exemptions for religious organizations are some of the worst in the country. Religious institutions are exempt – unless they offer services, goods, accommodations, etc., or are open to the public. What church is not open to the public? And what religious institution doesn’t offer services? The exemptions are equally problematic in the employment context.

We cannot allow extreme activists and some elected officials to criminalize conscience. Like our friends at California Family Council who led the fight against SB 1146, Center for Arizona Policy will continue to fight for every Arizonan’s right to live and work according to their faith.

Holding true to one’s religious convictions is not a crime. Being forced to conform to someone else’s is.


ICYMI – Latest News & Articles of Interest

  • Read more about exactly what the California law would have done and how we can be encouraged by the success of strong opposition to it. Read here.
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