California Gov. Jerry Brown made three big legislative moves on sexuality, and perhaps the most important one will be overshadowed. Brown signed a bill allowing Californians to identify as neither male nor female but as “non-binary,” he vetoed a bill pushing the Obama administration’s Title IX sexual assault regulations, and he vetoed a bill that would have forced religious employers to embrace progressive sexual morality.
Legislators in the Golden State passed a law explicitly targeting religious employers, removing their religious freedom to make employment decisions based on their sexual morality. Without Brown’s veto, churches, colleges, and religious charities in the nation’s most populous state would be unable to hire or fire people due to sexual conduct or statements.
Assembly Bill 569, introduced on Valentine’s Day this year, would have prohibited an employer from taking “any adverse employment action against an employee or their dependent or family member for their reproductive health decisions.” It also would have struck down “any contract or agreement, express or implied, made by an employee to waive the benefits of this section.”
This would have forbidden any code of conduct or voluntary agreement to abstain from sex outside of marriage. It would have effectively enforced a lax sexual morality on religious employers.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) introduced the bill following the case of 29-year-old Teri James, who alleged that she was fired from her job as a financial specialist at San Diego Christian College because her pregnancy revealed she had premarital sex.
“I was an unmarried pregnant woman, and they took away my livelihood,” she said in a statement. “They stripped me of my dignity and humiliated me.” James hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred — who joined the Summer Zervos sexual assault case against President Trump — to handle the case, suing for wrongful termination.
But James signed a 2-page “community covenant” when she started working at the college, pledging that she would abstain from “Abusive anger; malice; jealousy; lust; sexually immoral behavior including premarital sex, adultery, pornography, and homosexuality; evil desires; prejudice based on race, sex, or socioeconomic status; greed; idolatry; slander; profanity; lying; drunkenness; thievery; and dishonesty.”
The covenant ended with the warning that “appropriate action will be taken if the covenant is disregarded…. ultimately withdrawal from the community may result if these commitments are not honored.”
It may seem all too convenient that A.B. 569 would render James’ agreement null and void. The covenant may be overly broad — any biblical Christian knows that even great saints struggle with sin (Romans 7) — but religious institutions should be able to hold employees to religious standards. This bill would prevent their ability to do so.
The bill also specifically targeted religious employers, a fact Brown himself noted in his veto message.
“Assembly Bill 569 would add to the labor code a prohibition against any employer from taking an action against an employee because of that employee’s reproductive decision,” Brown wrote. “The California Fair Employment and Housing Act has long banned such adverse actions, except for religious institutions. I believe these types of claims should remain within the jurisdiction of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.”
Gonzalez Fletcher attempted to hide the anti-religious aspect of A.B. 569 by citing Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in his concurring opinion of the 2012 case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. “The Legislature finds that employees of religiously affiliated institutions are entitled to the same protections as any other employee under the California Labor Code, unless the employee is the functional equivalent of a minister,” the bill read.
Religious freedom groups disagreed. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow the state to order churches and other faith-based groups to violate their most deeply held convictions,” Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Elissa Graves declared in a statement.
“The government should not and cannot tell churches, Christian colleges, pro-life pregnancy care centers, and other religious groups that they can’t live out their beliefs within their own organizations,” Graves added. “Gov. Brown was right to veto this immensely unconstitutional bill, which would have been an unprecedented overreach on the part of the state of California.”
Leftist activists see it differently, however. Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL-Pro Choice California, characterized the bill as “aimed at preventing attacks on women’s rights under the guise of ‘religious freedom.'” Not only did Everitt suggest the law is aimed only at protecting women, she also implied that “religious freedom” is only smokescreen to promote bigotry.
“Ideological extremists are using ‘religious freedom’ to take control over our lives and political discourse,” she argued.
Everitt failed to explain just how allowing religious employers to follow their consciences in holding employees to conduct codes they voluntarily signed is actually an attempt to “take control over our lives.” Perhaps San Diego Christian College should have a less expansive covenant, and perhaps it should have illustrated God’s mercy for James.
But the woman did violate her word, and she signed a document suggesting she knew the consequences of doing so. Religious employers should be able to hold their employees to certain conduct standards, and it is not the place of the state of California to prevent them from doing so.
Gov. Jerry Brown deserves praise for stopping this bill, but it should concern all Americans that the most populous U.S. state came this close to explicitly targeting religious employers and gutting these private organizations’ freedom to live according to the dictates of their own conscience. Leftist activists across the country also consider this bill to be a commonsense reform, rather than the extreme restriction of freedom that it is.
Perhaps most concerning, some wolves in sheep’s clothing — “faith groups” in league with abortion activists — have endorsed this measure. A statement backing it was signed by such organizations as “Catholics for Choice” and “Muslims for Progressive Values.”
This also comes in the context of LGBT assaults directly at various First Amendment protections: free speech, free association, and religious liberty. One activist group announced plans to force churches to host same-sex weddings. A prominent LGBT activist has declared his intentions to “punish the wicked,” by which he means anyone who refuses to take part in celebrating a same-sex wedding. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has listed Christian organizations as “hate groups” along with the Ku Klux Klan.
LGBT activists look askance at the idea that believers should be able to live according to the dictates of their own consciences. They have cheered bakers losing their life savings for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding (while gladly serving LGBT people in their shops), and dismiss “so-called religious freedom” as a smokescreen for bigotry.
This California bill is not an isolated incident, and abortion groups like NARAL will keep attempting to undermine religious freedom in the most egregious ways. After all, the Hawaii senate actually passed a bill forcing a church to refer women to abortion clinics. You will be made to endorse the sexual revolution, from LGBT issues to abortion.