Calif. Legislation Imposes Employment Mandates on Religious Orgs; Passes Assembly

(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Religious groups are fighting legislation in California that would bar employers from firing workers for having an abortion or a child out of wedlock.

Brad Dacus photo

Brad Dacus Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC)

The bill’s opponents said Assembly Bill (AB) 569 seeks to eliminate the discretion of employers. They said AB 569 is particularly discriminatory against religious organizations that hold their employees to a standard of conduct consistent with their missions.

“The bill would specifically deny religious employers our 1st Amendment protections to infuse our codes of conduct with the tenets of our faith,” said Sandra Palacios of the California Catholic Conference.

Under the bill, employers would be prohibited from using disciplinary action due to a reproductive health decision, such as pregnancy or abortions.

Support for the bill follows recent events in the state of California. In 2012, a professor at a Christian college in San Diego was fired for becoming pregnant while unmarried. The school said her pregnancy violated the employee code of conduct, which prohibited premarital sex.

Proponents for the bill said it would set a necessary precedent in the state of California and in the country.

“Right now, while we’re facing a federal government that is attacking reproductive freedom at every turn and condoning the type of discrimination that this bill prohibits, we feel like this is the time for California to take a stand for our values and make sure that our workers have the best protections possible,” Rebecca Griffin of NARAL Pro-Choice California, a sponsor of the measure, said at a Wednesday afternoon hearing at the Capitol.

Religious groups, however, argue that these codes of conducts are integral to the relationship to their employees. Pacific Justice Institute said the bill would undermine the missions of religious groups like pro-life churches, by allowing employees to live inconsistently with their values.

“An organization specifically chartered to support or oppose a specific set of beliefs or actions cannot fulfill its mission without requiring adherence to a code of conduct,” wrote Jonathan Keller, president of the conservative California Family Council, in an opposition letter.

The bill passed the California Assembly by a wide margin, 54-17. It is now in the Senate awaiting its next hearing. PJI said it will continue to oppose the bill and other measures like it.

“State-mandated hypocrisy is as illogical as it is unconstitutional. In communicating our fundamental values like the sanctity of life, both the message and messenger matter,” said Brad Dacus, president of PJI. “We shouldn’t listen to people who don’t practice what they preach, and we shouldn’t be required to employ them, either.”