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Legislative Issues

The Church State Council has been vigorously advocating in state legislatures within its five state southwestern region for the past 45 years, since its founding in 1964. It has also supported important legislation in Congress.

In the past, its most significant accomplishments involve support for amendments to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 adopted in 1972 and 1991, that considerably strengthen Federal law protecting against religious discrimination in the workplace, and enactment of a variety of state laws to protect the rights of conscience for religious objectors to labor union membership.

The Council also supported passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The Council also successfully opposed ballot initiatives in California that would have provided “tuition vouchers” to children attending religious schools.

In recent years, the Council has addressed and is continuing to advocate on a wide variety of legislative issues, including but most definitely not limited to the following list:

Current National Efforts:

Workplace Religious Freedom Act: this is a critical bill needed to address the most widespread religious liberty problem in America today, religious discrimination in the workplace. The Council has vigorously lobbied for passage of this bill, which has been introduced into Congress with bi-partisan support for nearly a decade.

Civil Rights Tax Relief Act: Up until recently, when workers settled an employment discrimination case, they were taxed on the full amount of the settlement, including the portion paid to the attorney for legal fees. The attorney was also taxed, again, on the fees. This amounted to double taxation. This was eliminated in a recent bill. A further inequality remains to be fixed: emotional distress damages are not taxed if your claim is for personal injury, but they are taxed if your claim arises from employment discrimination.

Arbitration Fairness Act: compulsory arbitration of employment disputes frequently deprives workers of their most basic civil rights, the right to be free of discrimination, without providing real due process of law. We support this bill to restore the right of all workers, including those suffering religious discrimination, to bring these cases in court, where they belong, or to choose arbitration voluntarily, not under compulsion.

Oppose falsely labeled “Houses of Worship Free Speech Act:” Under current law, there is a bright line rule that churches cannot participate in partisan politics, and endorse candidates. This is because they are tax exempt, and politics is done through after tax dollars, not charitable contributions. Existing law respects the independence of churches, and the primary importance of their spiritual mission. This bill would risk turning churches into desirable conduits for political funding, threatening to distort the mission of many churches from spiritual to political.

State level:

Support State Religious Freedom Acts: The Supreme Court held in 1997 that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot constitutionally apply to states. This produced a flurry of activity in states throughout the nation to enact state specific bills to shore up religious freedom state-by-state. At last count about 22 states now provide protection for the free exercise of religion as a fundamental right, either by statute, by constitution, or by court decision. The Church State Council has actively worked for such bills, known as “state RFRAs,” in all five of the states in its region, and has successfully helped pass such bills in Arizona and New Mexico. These efforts involve considerable cooperation within the interfaith community.

Oppose Taxing Churches: The Council successfully opposed a Hawaii measure that would have required churches to fork over a percentage of the offering plate to the state, as well as taxing a wide variety of religious institutions, including hospitals and schools.

Preserve Religious Autonomy: One of the Council’s chief legislative concerns has been to ensure that private religious elementary and secondary schools remain free of intrusive state regulation. We also seek to preserve the rights of religiously affiliated health care institutions to preserve their religious character.

Oppose Public Funding of Religion/Religious Schools: the flip side of seeking to preserve the religious character and freedom of religious schools is to shun public funding. The golden rule has never been revoked: “he who has the gold makes the rules.” The Council advocates for the separation of church and state, and opposes direct funding of religious schools and institutions.

Support Parental Rights to Home School Children: Supported a joint resolution urging the California Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision ruling that parents have no fundamental right to home school their children. [The Council also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, and succeeded in having the court reverse itself, and recognize that the right of parents to home school their children is a fundamental right.

Oppose lowering the age of compulsory school attendance. Bills to require compulsory kindergarten have been introduced constantly for at least a decade. The Council believes parents must have the right to decide when their children are mature enough to attend school, and supports the rights of conscience of those parents who, for religious reasons, believe that they are the best educators of their children in their tenderest years.

Support Legislation to Protect Religious Land Use: The Council has sponsored legislation to amend state law to provide added protections to religious institutions in their use of land.

Oppose Scheduling Elections on Saturday: In 2008, Nevada scheduled important primary elections on Saturday, effectively disenfranchising thousands of Jewish and Christian voters who observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and do not ordinarily engage in secular activities such as voting during those hours. The Council urges that elections be scheduled during the weekdays, when people of all faiths can participate.

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