Another California legislator has introduced a bill to punish religious organizations for codes of conduct considered discriminatory. Last year, it was Senator Ricardo Lara’s SB 1146, which sought to take away Cal Grants from universities with policies espousing a historically Biblical view of gender and sexuality. This year, the attack targets faith-based codes of conduct related to abortion, contraception, and sex outside of marriage, but instead of just affecting universities, this bill (AB 569), as it is currently written, applies to any organization or business, including churches. And instead of the state threatening to withdraw state funding as a punishment as with SB 1146, this bill bans these religiously motivated moral codes outright.
The bill’s author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and its sponsor NARAL Pro-Choice of California believe organizations, even religious ones, are “invading the privacy and personal lives of women” when they prohibit any of their “reproductive choices,” including abortion or extramarital sex. Gonzalez Fletcher recently promised to amend the bill to exempt those employees directly working for churches, but she said the bill will definitely apply to religious universities and other pro-life non-profits.
“A woman should never face repercussions in the workplace for her reproductive choices,” said Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher. “It’s unacceptable.”
California Family Council President Jonathan Keller agreed that many churches, religious groups, and pro-life organizations do require employees to sign statements of faith or codes of conduct as conditions of employment. In fact, Keller went further by pointing out that organizations must implement these policies if they are to be faithful to their religious beliefs and core mission.
“Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practice what they preach,” said Keller. “The right to freely exercise one’s religion is enshrined in our Constitution, and has always protected every American’s ability to freely associate around shared beliefs and practices. It is unconscionable for any politician to attempt to abridge this sacrosanct religious liberty by inserting themselves into the employee-employer relationship.”
Gonzalez Fletcher describes herself as a very religious Catholic and personally pro-life, but proudly touts her 100 percent pro-choice voting record. The public information she released about AB 569 avoids using the word “abortion,” but instead focuses the bill’s intent on protecting unmarried women from being “punished financially for becoming pregnant and having children.” NARAL Pro-Choice of California focuses on the same argument, but does mention abortion in its press release headline.
AB 569 has two main provision. First, the bill prohibits an employer from “any adverse employment action” against any employee that uses any “drug, device, or medical service related to reproductive health.” This would include all medical abortion and contraception methods used by an employee or the employee’s dependents (including children up to 26 years old). According to the author, codes of conduct regarding any sexual activity outside of marriage would also be banned. An “adverse employment action” would include anything from termination, job reassignment, or any other disciplinary action.
Second, the bill would prohibit employers from even requiring employees to sign any document denying them “the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decision.” So requiring employees to promise to abide by codes of conduct that prohibit abortion, any form of contraception, or even extramarital sexual activity would be prohibited.
AB 569 was approved by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on March 29th with a vote of 5 – 2. Assembly members Calderon, Kalra, McCarty, Reyes, and Thurmond voted yes. Assembly members Flora and Harper voted no. The bill will now go to the Assembly Judiciary Committee for a hearing on April 25. Now is the time to contact the members of Judiciary committees and let them know what you think of this bill.