Orwellian freedom of religious conscience bill introduced in Wisconsin.

The religious lobby in Wisconsin has introduced Assembly Joint Resolution 43 and Senate Joint Resolution 38 which would alter the state’s constitution to include stronger conscience protection exemptions for religious people.  What’s a conscience protection exemption?  It essentially means you have to follow the law, just like everybody else, unless your religion tells you that you don’t have to.  This isn’t always a bad thing.  For instance, a school rule prohibiting the wearing of hats at all times, enforced completely across the board, would prohibit a fully functioning Jewish club.  That’s not fair.  So sometime exceptions must be made.

The problem is when it goes too far, which is what this bill would accomplish:

Personal religious beliefs should not trump civil rights. This amendment bears the Orwellian title, “Religious Freedom Amendment,” but in reality it would allow any individual to claim an exemption from following any law or policy on the basis of a religious objection.

  • It could be invoked to give parents and guardians permission to rely on “faith” and “prayer” rather than carry out their duty to seek medical care for gravely ill children.
  • It would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control, or allow religious employers to pay women less.
  • It could allow state employees to refuse to marry couples if such a marriage would conflict with their religion — if the couple is inter-racial, for example.
  • Theoretically, this bill could even allow priests to refuse to report child rape without penalty.
  • It could allow children to opt out of bona fide schoolwork that conflicts with their religion (e.g., no more evolution!).

That’s not ok.  Your religion does not give you the freedom to force your beliefs onto others.  You should not have carte blanch to ignore discrimination laws or to otherwise punish others, a privilege rightly afforded to nobody else, simply because of what you believe about god.

Happily for the world, this bill was introduced right in the FFRF’s back yard, and they’re none too happy about it.

This change has no regard for how well our religious protections have functioned. The substance of Article 1, Section 18 has been unchanged for 165 years, since Wisconsin’s 1848 Constitution. It explicitly protects from interference with rights of conscience. To amend Section 18 permanently, particularly when the amendment is unquestionably vague, is an insult to the founding document of our state.

Supporters of this constitutional amendment claim that it only is restating current judicial opinions. This is not true. The wording in the amendment is expansive. It turns a shield into a sword. A protection is now something that can be wielded against others. The amendment includes any purported burden on conscience, not just substantial burdens. A person may allege any trivial burden and could violate the law as long as religion was used as a justification. It also covers indirect burdens, which reaches a wide gamut of lawful state actions. Each person would be a law unto themselves.

I suspect the FFRF is ready to go to war if this measure passes.  It’s truly a pity they must even prepare for that possibility.  Good game, FFRF.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Loqi

    You know, all are welcome in Loqi’s Church of Nobody Pays Taxes And Everyone Is Allowed To Vote Multiple Times In State Elections.

    • Len

      Do you allow overseas members to join?

      • Loqi

        All are welcome. Our holy pdf tells us that the faithful are to be treated as Wisconsin residents, even if they’re not Wisconsin residents.

        • Zinc Avenger

          Now you see you should have gone with the holy docx, or maybe even the holy txt. Much easier to change whenever you feel like it revise in light of new revelation.

  • Highlander

    Here is how the amendment reads:
    “The right of conscience, which includes the right to engage in activity or refrain from activity based on a sincerely held religious belief, shall not be burdened unless the state provides it has a compelling interest in infringing upon the specific action or refusal to act, and the burden is the least-restrictive alternative to the state’s action.”
    Several religions require that adultery be punished by stoning, and stoning people who work on certain days of the week and stoning for lots of other reasons. This says that I may engage in activity based on a sincerely held religious belief. Can the state provide a compelling interest against this activity? Another individual who is being stoned can, but can the state? Probably only if this were used to stone to death a large number of state legislators. Pity.

    • phantomreader42

      Although legislators ARE pretty well known for adultery…

      • Highlander

        Hence the likelihood the state would find a compelling interest against it. Given the propensity for adultery among the powerful and all the other capital offenses that are in the bible that xtians ignore, large swaths of the legislature would be wiped out. It would be like stoning fish in a barrel.

        • Charlie Patin

          A barrel without water.

  • ollieclark

    If this passes there’s going to be a lot of stoned people. And not in the good way.

  • Chris Hollis

    FFRF’s backyard hell! It is right in their front yard!

  • baby zeus

    Amendments protecting the supernatural… you have got to be kidding! Right here is the worlds number one problem, kill god before this stupidity kills us!

  • mHerrera

    So what happens if I live in a small town, and the only pharmacist has some kind of problem with a prescription I’ve been given?

    What happens when a doctor’s hippocratic oath runs up against some zealot’s idea of prayer-based theraphy for a child in need of medical help?

  • Harley Quinn

    I’m from Wisconsin. I moved elsewhere years ago for work, but I still keep tabs on my home state.

    I’ve always wanted to move back to the Midwest, but reading news like this makes me think maybe I should go elsewhere. Who wants to raise kids in this sort of rubbish? I think it’s pretty sad when I don’t want to even visit my home state because of the religious zealots dictating everything there. It makes me want to vomit. What is WRONG with you, Wisconsin? What kind of crazy emeffer did you elect?

  • Tori

    Of course, this will only be okay until hardcore Muslims begin enacting Sharia law. Then, the Christians will throw a fit an announce it was only Christians they were trying to legislate for.

  • Steve Willy

    “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. v. City of Warren, 707 F.3d 686, 694 (6th Cir. 2013), quoting Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313; 72 S. Ct. 679 (1952).