It's well-settled law in America that you can say just about anything you want – unless, of course, you live in California, where the new trend is to force you to say things you don't want to say.
California, my former home state, continues to outdo itself through the mind-boggling laws its legislators propose (and, typically, pass). Two recent examples are efforts to compel speech.
Last I checked, there is still a federal Constitutional right to free speech, clearly elucidated in the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech"). There are court-recognized limitations to free speech, such as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire, and narrowly-tailored "time, place and manner" restrictions on speech (e.g., knocking on doors at 3 a.m. to share the gospel).
Besides a few exceptions like these, just about any speech is permitted, including unpopular and offensive speech (so-called "hate speech" is not a crime in America, nor is "defamation of a religion" as exists in many Muslim-majority countries). Thus, in America, it is well-settled law that people can say about anything they want.
But in California, the new trend is to force people to say things they don't want to say.
The first example of the California Legislature's buffoonery is SB 219, a bill that is allegedly designed to protect the rights of LGBT people in "long-term care facilities" (i.e., nursing homes). According to the pending bill, authored by California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), LGBT seniors face discrimination, including in long-term care facilities. The bill attempts to address this perceived discrimination, and several provisions in the proposed bill would not be considered objectionable by most evangelicals.
However, there is also a glaring provision that forces employees of long-term care facilities to "use the resident's preferred pronoun." Simply put, a man who chooses to identify as a woman and wants to be referred to by the feminine pronoun "she" must be referred to as "she," regardless of religious beliefs of the employee, biology or common sense. Violation of the provision is a crime under this proposed legislation. Yes – use the wrong pronoun, go to jail.
This must be a first in America – referring to people by their genetic, biological gender constitutes a crime. If only James Madison, Father of the Constitution, were alive to see how America has devolved.
If this bill passes, how will California deal with the likes of Pablo Gomez, Jr., the former University of California-Berkeley senior who preferred to be called by the pronoun "they"? Gomez is in jail, awaiting trial for allegedly killing a woman and seriously injuring another in separate attacks. Gomez was in court February 1 to enter a plea on charges of murder and attempted murder, but the judge ordered a mental health evaluation after Gomez was removed from the courtroom kicking and screaming.
If Gomez ends up in a long-term care facility, under SB 219, will it be a crime if employees don't call him "they"?
The second example of California compelling speech is the "Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act" (FACT). This is a law directly targeting pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
FACT requires all facilities with the primary purpose of "providing family planning or pregnancy-related services" to post in a "conspicuous place" – in a least 22-point type – a disclaimer that California has programs that provide "abortion for eligible women," and adding, "To determine if you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the number]" – requiring a pro-life facility to provide a telephone number for abortion referrals.
Illinois has a similar law, and Hawaii's Democrat-controlled legislature is about to approve its own version. The California law was challenged in federal court, but the law's constitutionality was upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last October. Three other states have struck down similar laws, so the issue will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I am, as a result, compelled to ask:
California is ground zero in efforts to create a brave, new secular world. Its latest efforts to compel speech are affirmation of what Dostoevsky wrote in his famous novel The Brothers Karamazov: "Without God, everything is permitted."
Evangelicals need to speak out against laws that require Christians to choose between violating their consciences and, in the case of SB 219, committing a crime. It is time to bring America back to a place where freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and common sense prevail – because speaking the truth should never be a crime.
John Stewart is a lawyer, former law school professor, and radio personality. He is currently the executive director of Ratio Christi International, a campus apologetics alliance, and is an allied attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
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