Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

California bill already chilling religious expression

Religious Liberty | Summit Ministries cancels a Los Angeles–area conference over the proposed law
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 5/08/18, 02:22 pm

The California state legislature’s latest effort to outlaw Biblical views on sex, marriage, and gender identity appears to have claimed its first casualty. Citing concerns over possible legal repercussions from a pending bill, Colorado-based Summit Ministries has canceled a summer conference at Biola University in the Los Angeles area.

“The vagueness of the bill has opened up threats to religious communities that the author did not intend,” Biola communications director Brenda Velasco told me.

Assembly Bill 2943 amends the state Consumer Legal Remedies Act by outlawing “sexual orientation change efforts” under the state’s consumer fraud law. It labels as fraud any financial transaction of goods or services that promote “sexual orientation change efforts.”

Summit Ministries’ summer workshops target 16- to 25-year-olds and address cultural issues from a Biblical perspective, including God’s design for sex and marriage. Critics of the proposed law fear such discussions in any forum where participants pay to attend, like the Summit Ministries conference, could put the host organization at risk of a lawsuit.

Typically, about 200 participants attend the California conference, Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, told me. Only 79 had enrolled for the June event at Biola when Myers pulled the plug and reassigned participants to conferences in other states. Myers defended the preemptive move, saying he feared the bill would pass swiftly through the California Senate and on to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature in June, which is also designated Gay Pride Month.

“What if I’m speaking at a camp, and I’m not telling them to change their [sexual] orientation, but I’m asking people to not act upon their attractions,” Christopher Yuan, a frequent Summit speaker, told me. “It might fall under this bill and be considered illegal.”

Yuan, an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute, is attracted to the same-sex but is celibate. He speaks to audiences of teens and young adults across the United States about finding their identity in Christ, not their sexual orientation. If the California bill passes, Yuan believes those conversations could put him and his hosting organization, even a church, in jeopardy of a fraud lawsuit.

Velasco added, “As currently written, AB 2943 endangers the religious freedom of clergy, pastors, or leaders of a number of faiths who care for LGBTQ persons in their communities.”

John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in Sacramento, Calif., said he finds the bill’s lack of exemptions most troubling. Without legal protections, Christian universities and colleges could find their teachings under scrutiny.

“We all have a psychology department,” Jackson told me. “We all have pastoral ministry counseling. And we think this bill, as it’s currently written, attempts to say a therapist can’t speak to a client that wants to change their sexual orientation. That could be very destructive for people seeking help in California.”

The bill passed in the House and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“California legislators are really struggling with this idea of religious liberty in a pluralistic society,” Jackson said.

Creative Commons/Photo by William Murphy Creative Commons/Photo by William Murphy The 2015 Gay Pride Parade in Dublin

Nothing to smile about

Sticks and stones may break bones, but the words “hate group” will cost Alliance Defending Freedom donations from AmazonSmile. As a designee on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s dubious “hate group” list, the religious liberty legal aid group has caught the disapproving glare of Amazon, which dropped ADF from its charitable giving program, according to a May 3 statement from ADF President Michael Farris.

AmazonSmile contributes 0.5 percent of the purchase price of eligible Amazon items to preapproved charitable organizations that customers can designate. ADF provides pro-bono legal support to clients defending their religious freedom, often from laws specifying sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. That earned ADF a place on the SPLC’s “hate group list” for its “anti-LGBT” activities.

Participation in AmazonSmile requires that nonprofit entities “do not engage in, support, encourage, or promote: intolerance, discrimination, or discriminatory practices based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age.”

In a letter to AmazonSmile, Farris called the SPLC list slanderous propaganda aimed at ruining the group’s ideological opponents.

“Unfortunately, it is aided and abetted by businesses like Amazon that uncritically accept SPLC’s slander and use it as a basis for its own business decisions,” Farris wrote.

Mikey Weinstein, an atheist and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and asked him to reinstate ADF’s status with AmazonSmile despite Weinstein’s own rejection of the organization’s positions. He called the work of SPLC “marvelous and courageous,” but also praised ADF attorneys’ “integrity, compassion, character, empathy, honor, and concern for their fellow humans” and called them “close personal friends.”

“However profoundly wrong they are on the law … they do not deserve controversial labels or being shoved to the side by the inestimable and raw power your formidable firm wields,” Weinstein wrote. —B.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Orlin Wagner Associated Press/Photo by Orlin Wagner Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer

Protecting faith-based adoption in the heartland

With the stroke of a pen by their respective governors, Kansas and Oklahoma will become the seventh and eighth states to provide legal protection for their adoption and foster care agencies. Despite unscrupulous campaigns to discredit the bills, lawmakers in both states passed legislation last week that shields faith-based child placement groups from punishment if they do not place children with gay and lesbian families because of their religious beliefs about marriage.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican, has said he will sign the Adoption Protection Act. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican, hasn’t said publicly whether she will sign SB 1140. A similar bill failed in the Colorado legislature May 1.

In Kansas, a full-page newspaper ad placed in The Topeka Capital-Journal by the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign to discredit the legislation backfired. Without gaining their permission or perspective on the bill, HRC listed 80 technology companies affiliated with TechNet, a network of technological companies. TechNet had previously issued a letter expressing members’ opposition to the bill, but HRC didn’t ask before running an ad saying they were against the legislation, the Capitol-Journal reported.

TechNet President Linda Moore apologized to her member companies and said, “We have made it clear to HRC that the placement of this ad was a major breach of our trust and confidence.” —B.P.

Christian school wins and loses zoning fight

A Christian school in Michigan lost its appeal for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday but not before winning its petition to a zoning board for permission to move into a local church.

After outgrowing its original location in a nearby town, Livingston Christian School in 2015 contracted with a local church to use one of its buildings. Genoa Township officials rejected the church’s special land use permit, citing overburdened infrastructure. The school sued, alleging the city could not use zoning laws to prohibit land use by churches.

The school lost every court appeal but not its appeal to Genoa Township, which in 2017 granted the church a conditional use permit. School officials said they hope to meet all code requirements in time to open this fall.

Even with the permit granted, attorneys at First Liberty who represented the school said the Supreme Court’s rejection of their case sets a bad precedent that emboldens municipalities to curb church land use through onerous zoning requirements. —B.P.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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  • Janet B
    Posted: Wed, 05/09/2018 12:55 pm

    “California legislators are really struggling with this idea of religious liberty in a pluralistic society,” Jackson said.

    I hope so.

  • Bear
    Posted: Thu, 05/10/2018 01:04 pm

    “The vagueness of the bill has opened up threats to religious communities that the author did not intend”.  I think the author did intend this.  And it's only a matter of time until someone attends some meeting with the purpose of pushing the point.