New York has taken a strong stand against both religious freedom and life causes this year, with three laws that push forward an ethical climate in the state completely incompatible with liberty, true health care, and allowing people to live according to their consciences. These laws push an intrusive agenda, overreaching into every part of people’s lives, including into whether churches can hire and fire people for doctrinal issues.
Each of these on their own is too far, but together they create a situation in New York that alters the fundamental ability of people to live their lives and worship according to their sincerely held beliefs. New York has violated the most basic and simple protections around people’s rights to free association and free exercise of religion.
New York’s Egregious Law Trifecta
Each of these three laws builds on each other, strengthening the anti-family, anti-freedom, anti-religion position of the state. The first is the Reproductive Health Act (SB 240), which has radically extended abortion access in the state.
Abortion is now legal in New York through 24 weeks of pregnancy — a gestational age at which babies are born and can survive with NICU care — or until birth if the baby is deemed to have an “absence of fetal viability,” or if the mother’s life is somehow threatened. This law also grants New York citizens the fundamental right to sterilization.
It also struck from penal law the homicide protections for unborn children, so when a pregnant woman is victimized in the worst way and deprived of her life, there is no justice for the murder of her baby. It also removes the ability of a coroner to investigate a death by a suspected “criminal abortion.” Since the passage of this law, there has already been at least one attack on a pregnant woman that led to her death as well as her baby’s, wherein the murderer could not be charged with the baby’s death.
Women matter. Their babies matter. Justice for them when the unthinkable happens should be preserved, not legislated away. New York’s lawmakers should remember Jennifer Irigoyen and her unborn child, and the fact that their law lessened the legal ramifications for the man who murdered them.
Chemical Abortion Is Not Contraception
New York’s second law in this trifecta is the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (SB 659A). Health plans in New York must now fully pay for contraception on behalf of employees, including for medications that can end a pregnancy. All Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, devices, and procedures must be covered at 100 percent, with no cost-sharing.
Gone with this is the ability for religiously motivated plans to take a stand against medications that can harm or destroy an early-stage pregnancy. The law includes no exclusion or opt-out for religious institutions or those that do not want this coverage. New York has decided all plans in the state must cover it and everyone in the state must have this available, whether they want it or not.
Then there’s the final piece of this picture: SB 660. Supporters of this bill named it the “Boss Bill.” This law ends the ability of churches, schools, hospitals, and all other religious businesses to employ only people who share the same beliefs about sexuality, family planning, or abortion.
The law reads in part: “To prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on the employees’ or dependent’s reproductive health decisions, and to provide remedies for such violations.” Also provided under this new law are the remedies, including financial restitution, reinstatement of the job if the person is fired, and attorney’s fees.
These Laws Violate Basic Freedom and the Public Will
Denise Harle, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom on this case, explained the implications for New York employers:
This law tells religious organizations and groups that they must employ, hire, and keep employed people whose beliefs and behaviors violate the religious beliefs of the organization. So in other words, it prevents any religious group or organization from — it says discriminating — but for making any hiring decisions based on someone’s reproductive health decisions. So in the example of a church like our client, First Bible Baptist Church, this would prevent them from making sure they’re employing people with beliefs and Biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage and reproduction. In the case of our client CompassCare and NIFLA, the pro-life pregnancy centers, this would actually require them to employ people who promote and endorse abortion, which obviously violates kind of the core mission of those charities.
It’s clear the reality lawmakers are creating in New York: one where the religious are restricted from deciding who they can hire, even on sincerely held beliefs and doctrinal tenets. A place where attacks on pregnant women, leading to the deaths of their wanted and loved unborn children, don’t equal double murder charges. A place where religious groups, such as orders of nuns, are forced to pay for unwanted abortifacients. New York doesn’t value religious diversity. It’s violating it.
New York’s laws and leaders are out of touch with the views of mainstream Americans, as demonstrated in a newly released Religious Freedom Index from the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom. This survey found that Americans treasure religious liberty, even when that liberty is “discriminatory”: “68% strongly support religious freedom, even if it means allowing for ‘offensive/discriminatory’ views.”
Directly contrary to New York’s new law, Americans believe employers alone should be able to determine who they hire and who they fire: “7 in 10 respondents support freedom for religious groups or organizations to make their own employment and leadership decisions without government interference,” and they support the rights of organizations and those who run them to make choices based on faith: “73% of respondents support freedom for people to run their business or private organizations according to their religious belief.”
To all the faithful in New York, to the lawyers bringing the lawsuits challenging these unjust laws, to the judges who will hear these suits, please remember and fight for religious freedom. Fight to preserve life. No one should be forced to acquiesce to laws that go against core parts of their faith, and New York is terribly, terribly wrong to have passed these laws. Support ADF in this legal fight, as all the work they do fighting for liberty and freedom is pro bono.
Be Informed About Your State Legislature and Laws
Harle also believes being informed is a vital part of what people can do to help in these cases:
I think a good thing to do is honestly be educated about this bill and the way it violates the Constitution and to speak out about it, speak to your friends and neighbors. Certainly, I think it’s great to support even sending a note of encouragement or otherwise support these ministries that are already standing up on behalf of so many other groups. You know, it’s not fun to be in litigation, but these people are willing to take a stand and to defend their person and that right — and on behalf of all others in New York that deserve the same freedom.
This isn’t only New York’s problem, and should serve as a stiff wake-up call to Americans across the nation. Be vigilant in watching bills that are proposed and working through your state’s legislature. Contact all your elected officials and let them know how important protecting life and religious liberty are to you and your family.
Places of worship must be able to make their own determinations on who to hire and why. It’s unthinkable to allow the courts to intrude on this, something the Supreme Court agreed with in 2012. Being discerning — being discriminating — in who can fulfill religious obligations in religious workplaces such as churches, schools, care centers, etc. is vital to the way they operate.
Anything else is a fundamental change in how religion functions in America. New York’s new laws are wrong and must be overturned.