Don Shoemaker, chair of the Social Concerns Committee in the Charis Fellowship, reports that AB-2943, Unlawful Business Practices: Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, has passed the California State Assembly and is now before the California Senate. He encourages ministry leaders in California to register opposition with the state senator in your area. More important, ask that a clear statement of RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION be added to the bill. And ask your board members and church members to contact their senators as well. Below is his recent report from the Committee.
California’s Assembly Bill 2943 is now before the state’s Senate
Much of the wording in this bill reflects secular understandings of sexual orientation and secular therapies regarding the same. In the words of the Legislative Analyst: “This bill would include, as an unlawful practice prohibited under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”
It is not my expertise, my interest, or my effort to delve into the above debate. As many of my friends know with whom I have had discussions and disagreements, I am interested in religious liberty and in the right of Christian and other religious communities to teach, practice, and perpetuate their own doctrines and moral teachings free of meddlesomeness from the state.
Thus, my concern over AB 2943 is its breadth, whether intentional or not.
The bill would amend California’s Civil Code to read: “’Sexual orientation change efforts’ means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” [emphasis mine]
Read that again! “…efforts to change behaviors…” Behavioral issues are religious issues. Secular too, perhaps, but religious foremost.
So the likely widespread scenario could be this: a church teaches that sexual relations are to be expressed in the bond of marriage and behavior should be ordered accordingly and modified as needed to fit this conviction. A minister or church counselor is approached by a sincere, devout person who wants to change his or her “behavior, gender expression or romantic attraction, or feelings toward individuals of the same sex” in accord with the church’s teaching.
Under AB-2943, would the church be breaking the law by teaching or counseling this person according to its convictions? As I read the law, the answer seems to be “Perhaps” and maybe “Yes.”
Some have claimed that sale of the Bible will be banned under this law. That seems extreme and unlikely. But what about a book written on this topic? What about a church advertisement for a sermon or a seminar on this topic? Questions about all these possibilities should be addressed before this bill becomes law.
Respected religious rights attorney Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute gives this caution: “The anti-counseling Bill’s broad language reaches far beyond the offices of therapists and into the church, affecting a ministry’s ability to sell books or provide conferences that encourage sexual orientation change efforts [SOCE].” Remember, SOCE includes efforts to change “behavior.”
The best that could happen, if this bill is to become law, would be for the California Senate to add a clear religious exemption to the bill.
If AB2943 is as benign as advocates say it is, it’s time to make that clear. Religious liberty is too precious a freedom to have its defense left to legislators, judges, attorneys, litigants, and bureaucrats who show little regard for it. — Donald P. Shoemaker