The debate over conscience rights is one of the mostly hotly debated issues in America today.
Stories about fire chiefs being fired because of their beliefs about homosexuality and efforts to force businesses to participate in same-sex ceremonies often headline the conscience rights debate. But the debate over whether the government can compel someone to do something they prefer not to do is taking place in other arenas as well.
Last month the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the Arkansas prison system could not prohibit a Muslim prisoner from growing a beard as he believes he is required to do.
In the Washington State legislature, three different pieces of legislation are dealing with the issue of whether individuals can be compelled to do things that violate their beliefs.
For the past three years, the abortion industry has been working to require every insurance policy bought and sold in the private market to cover abortion insurance. This proposal would make it illegal for someone with a moral objection to abortion to purchase for themselves, their family, or their business a policy that will not subsidizing abortion.
The number of legislators co-sponsoring these bills has declined significantly over previous years. This could be a reflection of the fact that some legislators are growing tired of justifying their attempts to force people to pay for things they believe are wrong.
However, a public hearing in the House of Representatives on this issue is expected soon.
Last summer, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, ruled that privately held companies could not be forced to pay for contraception coverage that violated their conscience. The Court said that such a mandate violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there are ways for the government to make contraception available without violating the freedoms of business owners.
In response, Washington State legislators have introduced SB 5026 and HB 1502 which would make sure the religious freedoms protections recognized by the Supreme Court would not extend to Washington businesses.
The bill would require every Washington State employer to pay for objectionable forms of contraception even if they are willing to provide other forms of contraception.
As you probably know, many jobs in Washington State require union membership. For the privilege of educating children, teachers in Washington are required to pay around $1,000 per year to the teacher’s union.
Teacher’s unions in Washington State support many far left causes that are inconsistent with the values of many teachers. For that reason, the law recognizes the rights of religious objectors to opt out of paying union dues and instead contribute the funds that otherwise would go to the union to a charitable cause.
However, employees attempting to exercise these rights have run into challenges.
First, the law states that the beliefs of a religious objector must be “based on bona fide religious tenets or teachings of a church or religious body of which such public employee is a member.” This language allows unions to force employees to prove that their beliefs are explicitly written in the governing documents of a church they are part of.
Secondly, the law requires the union to agree with the employees choice of charity they would like to contribute to in lieu of paying union dues. This has led to unnecessarily complicated negotiations when a particular union boss wants to control which charity an employee supports. One religious objector who testified in support of this legislation yesterday was told the only approved charity was the far left American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Senate Bill 5552 strengthens conscience rights and makes it harder for unions to harass employees who disagree with how the union spends money.
First, it allow a religious objector to opt out of membership simply for having a “personally held religious belief” and thereby eliminates the need to prove that it is an official religious tenet of a specific religious organization.
Secondly, it allows the employee to direct their union dues to any non-profit that participates in the Washington state combined fund drive program and thereby eliminate the ability of the union to choose which charity the religious objector supports.
Both changes would further expand conscience rights and make it harder for people to be harassed because of their beliefs.
If you are part of a union and would like to know how to stop supporting causes you disagree with click here.
Each of these bills is currently being debated in the state legislature and each of them will help determine the trajectory of the conscience rights and religious freedom debate in Washington State.
The homosexual lobby, the abortion industry, and union interests are all powerful political forces that each have their own reasons for wanting to restrict your conscience rights.
In addition, their significant campaign contributions have earned them a great deal of political influence despite their strong opposition to individual freedom and conscience rights.
It is up to us to be a counterbalance.
If you have thoughts about any of these issues, contact your legislator through the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.
Remember, freedom is not the status quo. It has been earned at a great price and must be defended with vigilance. Every day, those who want to take away your freedoms are busy in Olympia trying to do so. The least we can do is make a phone call.