SACRAMENTO – A Bay Area assemblyman reversed course yesterday and eliminated bill language blacklisting Christians, Jews, and Muslims from being police officers. Assemblyman Ash Kalra’s stated goal of AB 655 was to eliminate police officers belonging to “hate groups” or those who have used hate speech in the past. But the bill’s definition of “hate group” was so broad it included police officers expressing religious or political views on abortion, marriage, and gender, or even those who belonged to a conservative church, synagogue, mosque, or political party.
“We thank Assemblyman Kalra for listening to our concerns and revising AB 655 to respect the constitutional rights of peace officers,” said Jonathan Keller, president of the California Family Council. “Jesus said ‘there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ California Christians serving as police strive to sacrificially love their communities and treat every person with honesty and fairness. California should want more people of faith in law enforcement, not fewer.”
Assemblymember Kalra initially doubled-down on the problematic language in an interview with KCRA NBC News, even smearing those who disagreed. “You have a constitutional right to have racist and bigoted views,” Karla said. “You don’t have a constitutional right to be a police officer.”
Karla also said the community needs police officers with approved personal viewpoints. “The role and responsibility of peace officers is so important for a community healing — for a community’s safety — and the people in the community don’t feel that those that are entrusted with that responsibility look at them in a way that’s unbiased. That undermines our entire public safety system,” Kalra told KCRA News.
But after push back from the California Family Council and Pacific Justice Institute, the bill gained national attention. Over the last week the California Peace Officers’ Association, the Sacramento Bee, and other national organizations also expressed concerns.
In response, Kalra finally acknowledged the controversy and amended the bill yesterday. “We have put in amendments to remove the specificity regarding denial of constitutional rights. Because, you do have the First Amendment right to be part of groups that may differ in opinion,” Kalra told KPIX CBS News yesterday.
The First Amendment problems with AB 655 related to how the bill defined a hate group or hate speech. Originally the bill said a hate group means “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 constitution 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.”
No one was against defining a hate group as one that supports or advocates for violence or genocide. But saying that a hate group included an organization that “practices the denial of constitutional rights,” broadens the bill to include any organization that happens to hold religious or political views that conflict with controversial Supreme Court decisions on marriage and abortion. That means the Catholic Church would be considered a hate group under AB 655’s definition, especially after Pope Francis publicly said last week, that the church could not bless same-sex marriages.
The amendments added yesterday eliminate the phrase “the denial of constitutional rights of,” satisfying the opposition complaints for the most part.