Alabama Legislature Packs Multiple False Religious Liberty Bills Into One Day

On Wednesday, the Alabama House will hear not one, not two, but three separate bills aimed at carving out broad religious exemptions that could lead to real harm to real people.

The House Committee on Health will hold a hearing on HB 158, the “Alabama Child Care Provider Inclusion Act,” which would allow organizations that provide adoption and child placement services the ability to “refrain from conduct that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” This means that taxpayer-funded agencies could discriminate, for example, against prospective adoption or foster parents because they are unmarried, a same-sex couple, or for any other reason. This is true even if the adoption would be in the best interest of the child.

The same committee will also hear, HB 159, the “Health Care Rights of Conscience Act,” This bill would create an exemption for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, counselors, students, and even employees at health care facilities, to refuse to provide certain healthcare services – or even information about certain healthcare services – if they have a religious objection to doing so. Allowing one person’s religious beliefs to trump the health and well-being of another is not true religious freedom; it is a dangerous exemption that could lead to discrimination and endanger their health.

Across the building, the House Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing on HB 130, a bill to allow clergy and government employees to refuse to perform marriages they don’t want to perform. Clergy members certainly have the right to refuse to solemnize marriages for which they have religious objections, but no government official may object to performing certain marriages, for religious reasons or otherwise, if it is his or her duty to do so. Although not explicitly stated in its text, a bill like HB 130 is premised on a false notion of religious liberty, and it sanctions government discrimination and undermines the protections recently extended to same-sex couples.

By focusing on bills that would sanction discrimination by government officials, allow taxpayer-funded organizations to override the best interest of a child, and endanger the health and safety of those seeking medical services, the Alabama legislature is signaling its intent to double down on its false message of religious liberty, at the expense of its citizens.

And if that were not enough, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary is also set on Wednesday to hear a bill that would create a constitutional amendment to allow displays of the Ten Commandments on government property, including public schools – another clear violation of the separation of church and state.

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Elise Helgesen Aguilar

Elise Helgesen Aguilar is the Federal Legislative Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Elise graduated cum laude from the University of Florida Law School in 2011. There, she was Executive Articles Editor for the Journal of Law and Public Policy as well as the founder and president of the University of Florida ACLU. After law school, Elise worked on voting rights and electoral reform as a Legal Fellow with FairVote. She also worked on successful Congressional campaigns in both Florida and Virginia. Elise graduated cum laude from the College of William and Mary in 2008 with a B.A. in Government. She is originally from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.