AB 2943: The Slippery Slope of Repressing Religious Expression - May 2018

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice

California’s AB 2943 is a bill that raises a number of First Amendment concerns for religious freedom. Religious freedom is one of the most significant of our rights since it is foundational to many other rights and freedoms (see also my article in the Trinity Law Review here). AB 2943 is unconstitutionally repressing this foundational right in the effort to promote other purposes.

Some have claimed that the bill is a violation of the First Amendment in that it will “ban the sale of Bibles.” But the authors of the bill, including Assemblyman Evan Low, indicate that the bill will not do that, but will prohibit faith-based groups from using same-sex “conversion therapies” for counseling and charge for it. On first glance, that may be a good clarification of a misunderstanding on the application of the bill. But a closer look reveals other problematic consequences against First Amendment rights.

This California bill unconstitutionally limits a faith-based organization’s practices and perspectives based on their beliefs. The bill prohibits counseling, teaching against, or providing alternative views related to same-sex attraction, lifestyle, or marriage if there is a charge for it. Prohibiting a “charge” has broader implications that it may seem. It prevents many faith-based from sharing such views in the context of various faith-based programs, whether counseling or not, that may have a fee associated with it, such as conferences.

An example is the situation of Summit Ministries — a national ministry that focuses on youth. They had to cancel their annual conference in California largely because the AB 2943 seeks to insert provisions into the California’s Business and Professions Code which make “offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” to be considered as “deceptive business practices, subject to fines and penalties.” As such, Summit would not be able to conduct the conference both because people are paying for the conference and because of a potential misinterpretation of their practices as violating this provision. That creates a repressive situation for Summit Ministries and many religious organizations in and visiting California. See also Summit Ministries related press release here.

AB 2943 is not only a violation of the First Amendment on its face, it also creates a repressive “slippery slope” that even those that are same-sex advocates need to be concerned about. The bill can work against those same-sex individuals who genuinely want to consider and explore not only their sexuality but also religious teachings related to sexuality, marriage, or other essential aspects of life. And, if the concerns today are about religious views, the concerns tomorrow may be about political or other views, and that also can have a (negative) impact on both religious and non-religious people. These and other consequences of AB 2943 also place an undue burden on religious expression and practice in violation of constitutional protections.

While I certainly understand that there are legislators and voters who support same-sex attraction, lifestyles, and marriage, their views should not preclude other opinions based on religious perspective. Those that support AB 2943 because they don’t believe in various religious teachings or counseling approaches have a right to disagree with religious views. But the First Amendment was specifically written to prevent those who disagree from trampling on religious beliefs held by others. As such, AB 2943 is an affront to the religious freedoms that are essential to our democratic values and institutions. California should not lead our nation on that slippery slope.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.