ACLU asks Gov. Terry McAuliffe to protect bills that might threaten religious freedom

“VA bill: religious freedom for genetics counselor to discriminate” – Professor Marci A. Hamilton

ACLU asks Gov. Terry McAuliffe to protect bills that might threaten religious freedom

Published Wednesday, Mar. 12, 7:46 pm


The ACLU of Virginia has sent letters urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto Senate Bill 236, Senate Bill 330, and Senate Bill 555.  Senate Bill 236 and Senate Bill555 will allow the government to promote one religion over another, and Senate Bill 330 will license the use of religion to discriminate.

Senate Bill 236 is either unnecessary or an invitation to unconstitutional government sponsored prayer. “The U.S. Constitution, Constitution of Virginia, andfederal and state law already protect students’ individual ability to pray voluntarily and express religious viewpoints on school grounds and in their school work – both activities which the ACLU has and will continue to defend vigorously,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia.

“This unnecessary legislation will add nothing to these existing protections, but will, however, invite unconstitutional schoolsponsored religious speech resulting in religious coercion in a limitless range of school settings, including prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and Bible verses recited during morning announcements.  If the Governor signs this bill, students and school divisions will both lose.”

Senate Bill 330 is a bill to license genetic counselors that includes a so-called “conscience clause.” The “conscience clause” will allow these state-licensed health care professionals to refuse service to patients based on the counselors’ “deeply held moral or religious beliefs.” Counselors refusing service on religious grounds will not face disciplinary action or actions for damages even if their refusal causes actual physical harm to their patients.  “This bill seeks to give genetic counselors a license to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom,” said Gastañaga.  “Discrimination under the cloak of religion is nothing new, and the fallacy of this rhetoric is as clear now as it was 50 years ago when restaurant owners used it to challenge integration.  Unlike many issues before Governor McAuliffe, there is no ambiguity here.  You either support discrimination or oppose it.  Governor McAuliffe has the opportunity to take a stand by vetoing this bill and making clear to advocates who want to give all Virginia professionals and businesses a license to discriminate – it stops here!”

Senate Bill 555 will permit military chaplains, acting as government agents, to push their personal religious beliefs during official National Guard events.  “National Guard members required to attend any official event have the right not to be forced to worship in another person’s faith,” said Gastañaga.  “The institution of military chaplains exists not to promote the free exercise of chaplains, but to promote the free exercise of service members.  We do not support any limitation of any person’s right to religious expression in their unofficial or personal capacities. A military chaplain acting in his or her official role does not, however, have the right to use official mandatory events as a platform to disseminate his or her own religious views.”

“These three bills present Governor McAuliffe with an important and unique opportunity to reaffirm two of the most important principles of our Commonwealth – respect for religious freedom and opposition to discrimination in all its forms,” concluded Gastañaga.  “We urge the Governor to veto S.B. 236, S.B. 330, and S.B. 555.”

Read the ACLU of Virginia’s letter to Governor McAuliffe (S.B. 236S.B. 330, & S.B. 555)