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From religious freedom to immigration, Catholic leaders weigh in on proposed bills

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The California Catholic Conference is urging Catholics statewide to make their voices heard on proposed legislative measures concerning abortion, immigration and other issues. Gov. Jerry Brown (pictured during a 2015 news conference) has until Oct. 15 to act on the bills. (Getty Images

The California Catholic Conference is urging Catholics to let their voices be heard on a number of bills awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature this fall, including one — Assembly Bill 569 — the conference sees as a direct attack on religious freedom.

The governor has until Oct. 15 to act on the bills. As the statewide Church’s public policy arm, the conference has highlighted a number of measures they hope Catholic voters will lobby the governor, including measures dealing with abortion, immigration, child poverty, gender identity and human trafficking.

AB 569

Assembly Bill 569 is one of the most controversial bills to cross Brown’s desk, and one that almost certainly will wind up in the courts should it become law.

The Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act would prohibit all employers, including religious ones, from taking “adverse action against an employee or their dependent or family member for their reproductive health decisions, including, but not limited to, the timing thereof, or the use of any drug, device or medical service.”

The bill would also render “null and void” any contract or agreement — such as an employee handbook or code of conduct — that contradicts the proposed regulation.

The bill’s primary backer is NARAL Pro-Choice California, which contends it is needed to keep employers from firing employees who have abortions or who have babies out of wedlock. However, the Catholic conference and other opponents see it as a thinly disguised attack on any religious school, institution or agency that wants its employees to uphold its values, as well as serving as a potential open invitation to endless litigation.

“This is an ideological solution looking for a problem as we can surmise since NARAL is the sponsor,” said Ned Dolejsi, the Catholic conference’s executive director. “Employees are protected from workplace discrimination, including for their reproductive choices, under current law.” The bill also targets religious institutions’ codes of conduct even though such codes are “the reality in all of our public schools,” he said.

Other California religious leaders have chimed in on the bill as well. Donald P. Shoemaker, chairman of the Social Concerns Committee of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, sharply criticized AB 569 in an August guest column in the Long Beach Post Telegram.

“This bill would thus create the state-mandated hypocrisy of a pro-life religious organization opposing abortion in its message and mission on the one hand and enabling abortion in its employment policies on the other hand,” he wrote.

Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventists have also expressed opposition, and even the business community is wary of the bill. The California Chamber of Commerce has asked Brown to veto AB 569.

“Existing law already adequately protects an employee and their family members’ medical choices, as well as unlawful discrimination in the workplace,” the chamber states on its website. “This bill does not quantify what behavior constitutes ‘conduct’ that would be prohibited. AB 569 subjects employers to the investigative and procedural requirements of two separate state agencies, creating confusion and adding unnecessary burdens on employers seeking to comply.”

SB 54

The Catholic conference supports Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which limits ways that state and local officials can cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, including restricting the ability of law enforcement to detain people on behalf of federal immigration officers.

Brown is expected to sign the bill, which immigration advocates contend is needed in California, home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants.

“SB 54 is attempting to address this situation directly as it grapples with the injustice of indiscriminant deportations while assuring public safety for all our families and neighborhoods,” the Catholic conference stated, alluding to the compromises Brown struck with law enforcement leaders who had criticized earlier versions of the bill for unduly tying their hands. The bill’s final version outlines a variety of serious crimes that could warrant law enforcement cooperating with immigration authorities.

The proposed law “is threading the prudent path between respect for human dignity and sensible community-policing, while resisting a brutish nativist polemic heard in some quarters,” the conference said.

The Catholic conference is also urging Brown to sign Senate Bill 257, which would allow children of deported parents to continue to attend school here.

“The breaking up of families for deportation reasons is heartbreaking enough, but often children of deported parents are no longer eligible to attend school,” the conference stated. “Residency requirements mean students not only lose their parents but likely their friends and teachers — every fiber of their community.”

SB 743

Senate Bill 743 would allow Medi-Cal patients to select any provider of family planning services and pay that provider at higher out-of-plan rates, the conference states. Furthermore, SB 743 “would allow patients to go wherever they want but only for family planning services, otherwise patients must stay with ‘in-plan’ providers.”

Pro-choice activists have supported the bill in the wake of federal efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. However, the conference sees the bill as another example of aggressive abortion activism.

“In an unrelenting effort to promote abortion, California legislators now want to provide even more funding for abortion providers at a time when the state claims it cannot afford to pay for critical health care for the State’s vulnerable population,” the conference stated, noting it hopes Brown vetoes the bill.

SB 304

The conference supports Senate Bill 304, which would require that each county’s office of education and probation department develop and implement an individualized transition plan to meet the academic, behavioral, social-emotional and career needs of each court school pupil detained for more than four consecutive school days. 

“In 2014, more than 47,000 California youth attended court schools while in juvenile detention, with the average stay being 30 to 40 days,” the conference stated. “Yet, the education credits earned by these students aren’t recognized when they exit and re-enroll in their local school districts.”

SB 179

Senate Bill 179 would allow people to choose between “male,” “female” and “nonbinary” as their gender on such documents as driver’s licenses, without some of the current requirements, such as gender transition treatment. The conference opposes the bill.

“This bill, as currently written, makes the existing designations of the two genders ‘male’ and ‘female,’ rather meaningless for purposes of public law and societal interaction,” the conference said. “SB 179 proposes a rather expeditious, less researched, less discussed approach to various underlying public concerns.”

Other bills

The conference also supports: Assembly Bill 1520, which would create a task force to examine how to lift children out of poverty; AB 1227, which would “promote education in how to avoid [human] trafficking in our schools and expand cooperation among responsible authorities”; and AB 490, which would extend the state’s college access tax credit fund.

For more information on these and other issues, visit the California Catholic Conference website at cacatholic.org, and click on “Issues.”

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