SB 192 Nevada Dodged A Bullet

Rainbow Flag 2In the last session of the Assembled Wisdom several members of the Nevada Republican Party introduced SB 192 which “Enacts the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. (BDR 3-477).”   Those twho originally sponsored this bill included: Cegavske, Hutchison, Hammond, Hardy, Denis, Ford, Goicoechea, Gustavson, Jones, Kieckhefer, Kihuen, Parks, Roberson, Segerblom, Settelmeyer, Smith, Woodhouse, Fiore, Duncan, Hardy, Grady, Hambrick, Hickey, Kirkpatrick, Kirner, Oscarson, Stewart, and Woodbury.

The bill got a vote in the State Senate and passed 14-7 with Atkinson, Ford, Manendo, Parks, Smith, Woodhouse, and Spearman voting in opposition.  The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13, 2013 was instructive — especially so in view of the comments made by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as she vetoed the Arizona version.

Members of the committee asked those testifying in favor of the bill to provide an example of a person in the state of Nevada who had had their religious liberties violated by the current framework of non-discrimination statutes.  As close as the members got to an answer came from a representative from the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“You have asked about specific incidents in Nevada to which this bill is a response. I am not aware of any violations of the kind detailed in Exhibit E that have occurred in Nevada. We may not know when rights violations like this occur because those who consult attorneys might be told they have no legal recourse. ”  [Schultz pdf]

In short, NO. There hadn’t been any actual problems, but ‘gee whiz maybe there might be someone out there who got told by a lawyer that discriminating against people probably wouldn’t fly‘ or sometime in the future somewhere on the horizon, or something….  Not to put too fine a point to it but the EPPC was one of the initial think tanks established for the Culture Warriors, and one especially associated with highlighting what its sponsors saw as a plague of secular humanism (whatever that might be).  They are pleased to continue following this path.

Not surprisingly, between the mid 1980s and 2001 the group was funded by all the usual suspects — the Castle Rock Foundation, the Scaifes, the Koch Brothers, the Olin Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.  [SW]  [NVProg] The anti-gay refrain commonly associated with conservative think tanks of the sort supported by the bed rock foundations emerged during the hearing when, unable to provide any concrete examples of anti-religious discrimination in the state a spokesperson for the Church State Council described the proposed legislation as “pro-active” — to prevent alleged instances of religious ‘discrimination’ prior to their occurrence.  [Reinach, pdf]

One organization could provide examples of how the proposed statute could be a problem for Nevadans, it just wasn’t on the proponent’s side of the argument.   Elisa Cafferata, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, observed:

“I am not an attorney, and I have learned not to argue about what the law means, especially with a Committee made almost entirely of attorneys. I would just point out that the proponents of this bill could not point out any specific examples of violations in Nevada law that this bill would correct. Unfortunately, I read every day of situations in which people assert their religious rights to deny women access to health care. There are dozens of cases around the Country. We know of cases in Nevada where pharmacists have refused to provide women with birth control. We can give you hundreds of examples.”

Jane Heenan, of Gender Justice Nevada, was even more specific:

“There was an incident at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2010 in which a transgender person went to change the driver’s license gender marker. The person brought a letter from a doctor, which was a requirement at that time. The DMV staff member decided it was not appropriate for the person to change the gender marker and asked questions such as, “What does God think about your behavior?” and ultimately refused to perform the service. That is one example of many I could provide.”  [Heenan pdf]

Any questions?  Those holding anti-contraception and anti-gay beliefs would find some solace under the provisions of SB 192 if they foisted those tenets of faith on others.   A compromise amendment [R pdf] to SB 192 came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 12, 2013, and assured that “non-discrimination” wouldn’t become “discrimination” the committee added its “do pass” recommendation. [NVLeg pdf]

State Senators Cegavske and Hutchinson testified (pdf) in the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s May 17th (2013) hearing on SB 192, noting: “The key provision of S.B. 192 (R1) is found in section 8 of the bill. Specifically, section 8 prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the governmental entity demonstrates that burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest.”

Interesting.  Note that there would have been two tests here. First, the government can’t “substantially burden” a person from (not filling a contraceptive prescription or not letting a person change the gender marker on a driver’s license) and further the burden must be commensurate with a “compelling” governmental interest — whatever that might be — and further the “burden” must be the “least restrictive means.”

No one contended at any point that religious freedom wasn’t a wonderful thing, however the implications, and actual target of the legislation was summarized quickly by the representative for the Nevada ACLU (pdf): “We are talking about language that says a religious motivation gets the greatest deference that the courts and the government could give, even though it may affect someone else whose rights do not get that same kind of deference.”

The bill went no further.  Nevada avoided the sort of publicity recently accorded the Arizona legislature over S1062.   However, before we sit back and relax enjoying the pleasant delusion that the Culture Warriors have been shamed into silence — this legislation will not be the end of the matter.

Women’s Health

There are those who devoutly hold that women are vessels, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7″ — A bit of proof-texting is all that is necessary to bundle up a bit of Scripture to prove a woman’s subjugation to male authority, none of which goes very far towards explaining Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Texts notwithstanding, the underlying attitudes towards women’s health and the use of prescription contraceptives, aren’t so much scriptural as cultural.  As long as masculinity as defined in some unfortunate quarters by fertility women are at risk of being forced to carry to term pregnancies which can be both physically and emotionally damaging.

Gender Discrimination

I am truly sorry for those whose personal bubble is a protective device shielding them from that which they find uncomfortable in others.   Only about 3.8% of the U.S. population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. [Abt]  If two men holding hands in the park make a person “uncomfortable,” the real problem is in the eyes of the beholder, not the two fellows having a nice afternoon with a picnic lunch.    If a person is confusing a wedding ceremony with a marriage contract, that’s a matter of personal conflict; one that should not be transformed into the denial of inheritance,  access to social services, or any other legally available rights awarded to married couples.

What the law cannot protect us from is seeing what we don’t want to acknowledge.   The law can no more prevent us from seeing the men at the picnic table any more than it can prevent us from witnessing children being handed school lunches only to have the meal tossed away for non-payment.  The law can’t prevent us from seeing the deterioration of school playground equipment, nor can it prevent us from observing a transgender person in a shopping mall.   Our level of comfort is subject to our own very individual tastes and concerns.   And, our level of comfort is in no small measure a function of the level of our fears.

If a person is made more uncomfortable by the sight of a gay or lesbian couple than by the sight of humiliated children, deteriorating playgrounds, struggling retailers, an alcoholic left ignored and untreated in a doorway, or children left to play indoors on a sunny day because there is the prospect of gun fire in the neighborhood — then perhaps there is room for the reconsideration of our priorities? Not to mention the kind of life our faith is supposed to nurture.

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