News & Politics

CHILLING: California Police Reform Bill May Ban Christians From Law Enforcement

New York City Police Academy graduates salute during the national anthem at their graduation ceremony, adding 457 new members of the NYPD, Thursday April 18, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Police officers have a duty to protect all citizens, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other identity. Governments have an interest in preventing violent criminals and members of the Ku Klux Klan from joining police forces. Yet a new bill supposedly aimed at preventing gang members from joining law enforcement could prevent conservative Christians from taking the blue or result in their firing.

California Assembly Bill 655 would require police departments to investigate whether not potential cops had “engaged in membership in a hate group, participation in hate group activities, or public expressions of hate.” It would make such activities “grounds for termination.”

When Americans think of a “hate group,” many minds would conjure up a domestic terrorist group motivated by racial animus like the Ku Klux Klan. Yet some transgender activists and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) use the term “hate group” as an epithet to demonize their political and ideological opposition. The SPLC has become notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christian groups as “hate groups” because they advocate against same-sex marriage or transgender activism.

Assembly Member Ash Kalra, the author of A.B. 655, told PJ Media that he does not intend his bill to “curtail freedom of religious views or political affiliations — conservative or otherwise.” He acknowledged that the bill’s “definitions are a work in progress.” If so, he should seriously reconsider the definition of “hate group.”

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A.B. 655 defines a “hate group” as “an organization that, based upon its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities, supports, advocates for, or practices the denial of constitutional rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

That definition seems reasonable, but it can easily encompass mainstream conservative Christian organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). ADF opposes the Orwellian redefinition of civil rights laws to kowtow to transgender activism. In Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), the Supreme Court ruled that when Congress outlawed “discrimination on the basis of sex” in the 1960s, that law also applies to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity today.

As Justice Samuel Alito warned in his dissent, the Bostock ruling creates serious threats to religious freedom, free speech, fair play in women’s sports, women’s privacy, and women’s safety, among other things. There are serious problems with the logic Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch used to reach his decision in Bostock, and the decision arguably should be overruled.

According to Bostock, organizations like ADF that advocate against transgender activism may fit A.B. 655’s definition of a “hate group.”

Furthermore, pro-life organizations arguably fit the definition, as they seek to deny women the “constitutional right” to abortion established in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Matthew McReynolds, senior staff attorney at the Pacific Justice Institute (a conservative legal organization the SPLC falsely brands a “hate group”), warned that the overbroad definition of “hate group” in A.B. 655 raises important questions.

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“Are the many conservative organizations pejoratively labeled ‘hate groups’ by the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center—because they oppose radical LGBTQ ideology—actual ‘hate groups’ within the meaning of this legislation?” McReynolds asked. “Is the Catholic Church a ‘hate group’ because it advocates for the sanctity of life and thereby rejects the constitutional rights of women to obtain abortion?”

“Are the thousands of churches in California which voiced support for Proposition 8, the traditional definition of marriage, ‘hate groups’ because they opposed LGBTQ constitutional rights to marry?” McReynolds added. “Are the careers of Muslim officers in jeopardy if the mosque where they offer prayers has ever spoken out against homosexuality or gender equality? Is the Republican Party a ‘hate group’ because it does not endorse gender identity as a constitutional right?”

“If it is not the author’s intent to exclude from law enforcement the millions of Californians who identify as Catholic or conservative evangelical or Republican, this Bill must be substantially rewritten to communicate a very different intent than what currently inheres from its language,” McReynolds argued.

He even noted that “the definitions are so broad that even someone who does not adopt all of the organization’s views—such as a pro-choice Catholic—would still be excluded because the Bill targets mere membership in the banal organization. Worse, AB 655 would exclude past members or associates of such groups, regardless of how much time has passed since that association.”

Kalra, the author of the legislation, denied any attempt to target conservatives or Republicans in the bill.

“I believe the simple requirement of conducting thorough background checks of law enforcement officers is critically needed and that the measure is a step in the right direction. Extremism, racism, and animus have no place among our law enforcement agencies and only contributes to the erosion of public confidence in the legitimacy and fairness of our justice system,” Kalra told PJ Media.

“This bill is in no way intended to curtail freedom of religious views or political affiliations—conservative or otherwise,” he insisted. “The CLEAR Act was drafted in a way that recognizes there can be nuances in a person’s affiliation with a ‘hate group’ and the legislation is not meant to identify specific groups, but rather focus on actions and behavior that perpetuate animus and violence. These definitions are a work in progress, and I am committed to providing greater clarity. I welcome discussions and debate on how best to do so.”

Kalra did not respond to PJ Media’s questions about whether he considers the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations reliable. Democrats in Congress have repeatedly cited the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations to demonize former President Donald Trump’s nominees, and Attorney General Dana Nessel (D-Mich.) cited the “hate group” accusations in launching a “hate crimes” unit in 2019, effectively announcing government surveillance and targeting of conservative groups.

Given California’s political bent, it stands to reason that many of the state’s police departments might interpret “hate group” along lines similar to the SPLC and that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) or other governors might direct them to do so.

Regardless of Kalra’s intentions, A.B. 655 does threaten to make it impossible for many conservative Christians to join California police departments. If this truly is an oversight, he should amend the legislation to correct it.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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