California’s Democratic politicians frequently proclaim their fervent support for tolerance and acceptance of those outside the cultural mainstream.
Increasingly, however, they exhibit intolerance of those who disagree with their party’s orthodoxy, even to the point of infringing on their constitutional rights.
That tendency was on display this week in the U.S. Supreme Court as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra personally defended a state law requiring anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” to tell clients about public programs offering family planning, prenatal care and abortion services. Becerra and other defenders contend that the required 42-word notice to clients is neutral and informative.
The 2015 law, backed by abortion rights groups, was upheld by the 9th District Court of Appeal after being challenged by the targeted pregnancy centers. However, similar laws in other states and communities have been overturned, thereby throwing the issue to the Supreme Court.
“As a private, nonprofit organization,” one California clinic operator told the Washington Post, “we don’t want to be compelled to, in essence, advertise for the abortion industry.”
The clinics’ contention that their free speech rights are being eroded by the law is persuasive. One can only imagine the uproar were the California Legislature to require abortion providers to inform their clients of services the anti-abortion organizations offer.
In fact, some states have laws that require abortion providers to give that kind of information to their clients, and if the Supreme Court overturns the California law, it’s likely that the red state anti-abortion laws that also violate speech rights will be attacked in the courts – as they should be.
The issue here is not abortion. The issue here is the constitutional right to hold and express beliefs that may be in the political minority, even if they are misguided, without that right being diluted or violated by state legislators.
Even as the Supreme Court mulls that issue, another bill has been introduced that would take the same punitive approach to another very controversial issue, what’s been called “conversion therapy” for those who identify as gay or are contemplating their sexual orientation.
Since “contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness,” Assembly Bill 2943 declares, those “offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” violate consumer protection laws.
The bill is being carried by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Campbell Democrat, and co-authored by other members in the Legislature’s LGBT Caucus. Not surprisingly, those who oppose California’s anti-abortion clinic law also see AB 2943 as violating rights of speech and religion.
“The language used in this bill casts a wide net calculated to entangle religious institutions and ministers,” said Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, a religious freedom organization.
Snider and other critics have a valid point about freedom of speech. Although, as the bill points out that science says one thing about sexual orientation, it should not be illegal to hold and express a contrary view, just as it should not be illegal to question global warming or any other scientific doctrine, even if it’s wrong-headed. It’s a principle that fair-minded people who support abortion rights and believe that being gay is just as natural as being human should support.
One either believes in the Bill of Rights or one doesn’t. Supporting only those rights that one personally embraces while allowing others to be legislatively violated doesn’t cut it.
Beatrice Hall, a 19th century English writer, said it best: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
In an era when college campuses have become anti-free speech bastions, it’s vital for the state Legislature and the courts to uphold that principle.