Why California AB 2943 Is a Threat to Free Speech Everywhere

This Bill Allows for Banning Biblical Books and Censoring Biblical Seminars and Preaching

I hope that by now you have seen California’s AB 2943 on the news or in your social media streams. This broad-sweeping piece of legislation is a threat to religious liberty and freedom of speech across the state and, by setting a precedent, across the country.

After all, since when can the state tell a church what books to sell or what materials to cover in a seminar? That is exactly what this bill would do under the auspices of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Let me encourage you to read the bill yourself and see if it doesn’t raise concerns.

The bill describes as an “unlawful business practice” any “sexual orientation change effort.” This includes the free-will request of an individual to a church or counseling center to help them resist thoughts about a sexual orientation. The bill specifically defines, “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

This would make it illegal for anyone to offer the option of paid help or counseling (including pamphlets, books, or other reference materials) for an adult who is struggling with same-sex attraction or a same-sex relationship or who has struggled with gender identity and wants to deal with those feelings biblically.

The bill would entangle ministries in litigation and red tape for practicing their closely held religious beliefs. It sets a dangerous precedent and infringes on all Californians’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion. Even someone who is not concerned about religious liberty should stand against this bill for the cause of free speech.

The state can’t tell a person they are disallowed from having a discussion or receiving counsel that happens to go against what the activist legislature in Sacramento deems appropriate.

There are two aspects of this bill that I want to clarify and then ask you to respond to. First, the bill is dangerous even at face value. Second, it is not hyperbole or fake news to say that the bill allows for banning biblical books and censoring biblical seminars and preaching. I’ll explain both:

Why AB 2943 Is Dangerous

Because AB 2943 labels “conversion therapy” as a fraudulent business practice, it is directed at any aspects of counseling or ministry services in which there is an exchange of money. The most obvious would be professional counselors, but it could also include a church retreat for which money is paid, something that was acknowledged in the Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing. Also acknowledged in the hearing is that there is a fine line between free speech (a speaker stating what he believes) and seeking to change someone else’s beliefs or lifestyle.

Politicians have no place telling a counselee what his or her counseling goals should be. If a person is struggling with an issue and wants help, since when does the government get to decide what that help looks like?

In fact, during the hearing in the California Assembly chamber, many people testified that they struggled with sexual orientation issues but that they changed, through counseling, to heterosexual relationships or to their biological gender and were thankful and glad they did. The testimony of these people, however, was completely ignored by our intolerant state legislature. If this bill is passed, it would make it impossible for people like those who gave testimony to receive the help they sought if any money were exchanged in the process.

The state cannot discriminate against people of faith, including those struggling with sexual or gender issues, by acting as if they do not exist. Neither should it label a practice as fraudulent just because some in the legislature do not agree with it.

This is ideology, not science. From a scientific perspective, no one can definitively say that “conversion therapy” is good or bad. We’re not talking about something that is “proven false”—any more than I could find circumstantial or anecdotal “research” to label practices or beliefs with which that I deeply disagree as fraudulent.

For the state to tell an adult what kind of counseling they can receive is a gross government overreach and a violation of their free choice.

Furthermore, for the state to tell a counselor, pastor, or any other person what kind of help they are allowed to offer or not offer, whether it is a paid or free service, is a violation of First Amendment rights.

Why Concerns over AB 2943 Are Not Fake News

So what about the claims that AB 2943 could ban the sale of books or the Bible? Didn’t Snopes debunk this? Isn’t this an overreaction?

Nobody—including David French who was one of the earliest to write about these concerns—says that the bill has the exact words in it, “We will ban the Bible.” But, as I described in this interview, the reality is that because of the broad-sweeping language of the bill, it could be used to ban the sale of books that provide teaching on what the Bible says or the Bible itself.

And for those who point out that liberal politicians who support this bill are beginning to react to such claims saying they are unfounded, I simply ask why those politicians don’t specifically narrow the bill adding protection for religious liberty? The reality is that the bill goes after Christians and is hostile toward biblical truths about sexual identity and morality.

In truth, the Bible encourages refraining from any sexual activity outside of marriage and offers hope for change through Christ. So what is to stop the state from eventually saying, “You can’t sell the Bible because it provides ‘fraudulent advice'”?

Furthermore, this is a step toward calling a pastor’s exegesis of passages such as 1 Corinthians 6 or 2 Timothy 2:22 (“Flee also youthful lusts”) a hate crime. And is preaching a “business practice” such that it could fall under this law? Not to me, but it could be construed that way to an over-reaching, antagonistic state.

Would passage of this bill lead to police walking into a bookstore and arresting the proprietor? Probably not (at least not this year). But, if passed, it could lead to Christian counselors, pastors, and speakers being embroiled in lawsuits for fraudulent practice. Even if they are cleared, the process of litigation will be financially punitive and discourage others from practicing their freedom of speech in similar ways.

Plain and simple, AB 2943 threatens lawsuits and punitive action under the Consumer Protection Act for views the government doesn’t like. This is a violation of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

So no, it’s not hyperbole or fake news to say that AB 2943 violates the First Amendment and could very well be used to ban sales of books and church events that help people live according to their faith.

What You Can Do

Is there anything that you can do? Yes!

Pray

Would you ask the Lord to intervene in stopping this bill?

Call

If you live in California, call your senator today and ask him or her to oppose AB 2943. Let them know that people should be free to find whatever counseling or help they want. (You can find your representatives in the legislature here: findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.)

Additionally, because it is expected that any day the California Senate Judiciary Committee will receive this, it could be helpful to call the members of this committee and also ask them to oppose the bill:

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D, Chair)
(916) 651-4019

John M.W. Moorlach (R, Vice Chair)
(916) 651-4037

Joel Anderson (R)
(916) 651-4038

Robert M. Herzberg (D)
(916) 651-4018

Bill Monning (D)
(916) 651-4017

Henry I. Stern (D)
(916) 651-4027

Bob Wieckowski (D)
(916) 651-4010

Share

Please spread the word about this dangerous legislation. Whether or not you are a California resident, you surely have friends or family who are. Share this blog post or other articles about this bill that give a call to action.

And remember that the California legislature tends to set the direction for activists in other states. If this bill is defeated, it will be a First Amendment victory for states across the nation. If it is passed, it won’t be long before other state legislatures begin introducing similar pieces of legislation.

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