Protect Child Vaccine ExemptionJul 22, 2016
The principle of religious freedom is such that it must apply to all or it applies to none. At The Family Foundation, we take that principle very seriously.
That’s why when we learn of threats to any religious liberty statement in our state law, we get concerned. During this year’s General Assembly session, one bill was introduced, and then quickly struck after an uprising of people from both the political left and right, that would have removed the religious exemption for state mandated vaccinations for children.
Despite the outcry, the proposal is now being reviewed by the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC).
To make sure members of the Commission’s subcommittee studying the issue know that parents in Virginia should be free to make decisions regarding the health care of their children, I am asking you to attend the meeting of the subcommittee on Wednesday, August 3rd at 1:00 pm at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.
As someone as one who reviewed, considered and made decisions on each vaccination individually, this particular religious exemption is not one I’ve exercised, but there are some families in Virginia who take this exemption and they should be free to do so.
In fact, Virginia has a high rate of vaccination and a very low rate of infectious disease. There is no health crisis and there is no compelling reason to remove the longstanding exemption. The law of Virginia allows for the state to suspend the exemption in case of an epidemic, so the fear mongering by opponents of the exemption that it is a health risk are unfounded.
If at all possible, please attend the JCHC subcommittee meeting on August 3rd!
A radical Leftist group called “Campus Pride” recently published its latest version of what it calls the “Shame List”, wherein it identifies and attempts to publicly “shame” the “absolute worst campuses for LGBTQ youth” in the United States. The group reached its conclusions about the listed schools by looking almost exclusively at one factor: whether the college or university has requested an exemption to Title IX. (Title IX refers to the federal law most associated with federal funding of educational institutions; Schools may request a religious exemption in order to continue to make decisions consistent with their long-standing faith doctrines concerning acceptable sexual practices, and other matters.)
Two Virginia institutions made the list – Liberty University and Virginia Baptist College. And of the 102 total institutions listed, every one of them is distinctively centered on the Christian faith.
For merely requesting a lawfully permitted religious exemption to certain federal requirements that may directly conflict with the schools’ faith-based mission (an express exemption which they never needed until now), Campus Pride contends that the 102 “colleges & universities listed have chosen to openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth and have requested Title IX exemptions to perpetuate the harms of religion-based bigotry.” Well isn’t someone being just a tad presumptuous?
But in case that characterization wasn’t preposterous enough, Campus Pride took their rhetoric to a whole new level, declaring that the schools’ request for religious exemptions is “careless”, and even going so far as to call it “life-threatening” to “LGBTQ” youth.
“Life-threatening”, they say? Okay, surely this can’t be for real. Either that, or they must be getting desperate. At first glance, it seemed to me absurd that such a thing could even be suggested. But then it hit me: in at least one very real sense, they have a point.
It was no coincidence that Campus Pride singled out only Christian schools, while issuing its public warning call that these schools are potentially “life-threatening” to “LGBTQ” youth. Its list represents many schools whose gospel-centered mission penetrates, permeates, and illuminates everything they do. The Gospel forms the backdrop for their whole existence as a place of learning and is itself the basis for understanding life’s purpose and value in the context of God’s design.
More than likely, whether intentionally or unwittingly, Campus Pride has rightly recognized and is now attempting to expose a radical and unassailable truth: that the Gospel is indeed the most life-threatening message these youth could possibly encounter. That is because the Gospel will necessarily confront, disrupt and threaten everything about a person’s life and will call upon that person to relinquish every sinful passion with which they identify or indulge in order to follow Jesus Christ with their whole heart, soul, and mind, wherever He leads them. It may very well cost them everything they have. If that’s not “life-threatening”, then I don’t know what is.
The fact that so many of those colleges and universities make the Christian message of the Gospel integral to their mission makes them a valid threat to all who would reject the Gospel’s call. Campus Pride clearly knows this.
Yet Campus Pride misses the other – and arguably more incredible – half of the Gospel paradox. Namely, that in addition to being “life-threatening”, the Gospel is ultimately “life-giving” to those who embrace it.
Jesus himself says it best in Matthew 16:24-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. For what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
If this profound message underlies the mission of the schools on Campus Pride’s “Shame List”, then every one of them who made the cut should consider such a designation a badge of honor rather than an insult. As for my alma mater, Liberty University, I know that’s how I feel about it.
The ABA's Folly
The ABA's Folly
The American Bar Association (ABA) is the nation’s principal professional institution for members of the legal profession. According to the ABA, its mission is “to serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” With its nearly 150 years of history, 400,000 active members and 3,500 entities, the ABA wields incredible influence over the legal profession.
One of the most notable roles the ABA has assumed is creating the “Model Rules of Professional Conduct” for lawyers and judges. Although these model rules are not themselves binding on all lawyers, they are very significant because most states have enacted these Model Rules – or else a slightly modified version – as their own standards of professional conduct for licensed attorneys in that state. State policymakers don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so they invariably draw heavily from the standards of the ABA.
It is troubling, then, to learn this past week that the ABA added a new so-called "non-discrimination" provision to its Model Rules which, among other things, elevates certain sexual proclivities to a privileged status in the context of professional misconduct. According to the new Rule 8.4:
"It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: ... (g) engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of...sexual orientation, gender identity, [o]r marital status...in conduct related to the practice of law. …"
“Comment ” supplements this provision of the rule, adding:
“ Conduct related to the practice of law includes representing clients; interacting with witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, lawyers and others while engaged in the practice of law; operating or managing a law firm or law practice; and participating in bar association, business or social activities in connection with the practice of law.”
What all this means in practice is that for attorneys, like myself, who practice law in states that adopt the ABA’s misconduct language – and many states soon will – practicing law in a way that is consistent with your faith or personal convictions may cost you your law license, and therefore your livelihood.
This “misconduct” rule – just like every other “sexual orientation/gender identity” law or rule we’re seeing governments and other institutions adopt in recent – has the direct result of setting up a collision course for sexual “freedom” and conscience rights. These provisions are designed to ensure that when such conflicts inevitably arise, sexual freedom always wins. And since there can only be one winner, religious freedom by default must lose.
In the relevant part, Comment  of the revised rule provides that “discrimination includes harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifests bias or prejudice towards others.” Viewing this definition in conjunction with the virtually all-encompassing standard of “knows or reasonably should have known”, it is not hard to imagine the myriad of ways a person may target an attorney and hit them with Bar complaints, which can lead to professional reviews, sanctions, and eventually disbarment.
Under this rule, an attorney who declines to represent a same-sex couple in an adoption may be reported and disciplined for professional misconduct. An attorney who declines to represent a client who wishes to obtain a court order to alter the person’s sex as reflected on their birth certificate could now be subject to professional discipline for “discriminating” on the basis of “gender identity.” Refusal to perform a same-sex “divorce” could now cost an attorney big time.
Bringing things a little closer to home, an attorney who regularly advocates for traditional values may be accused by opponents of engaging in “harmful verbal…conduct that manifests bias or prejudice towards others.” The list goes on. And it is worth noting that the merit of these potential (and inevitable) complaints makes little difference to the attorney who now has a series of complaints for unethical conduct filed against him on his record. To add to his misfortune, that attorney, having become ‘damaged goods’ on account of his remaining consistent in his guiding principles, is ironically unlikely to be recommended for any judicial appointments.
When we leave the conceptual and enter the real world, we see that it isn’t just “religious freedom” that loses, because religious freedom is nothing if not the expression of real-life decisions by a real person with a real family who relies on them, and who is filled with real hopes and dreams and gifts and passions. It is people who lose; in this case, mostly attorneys whose faith and conscience influence their daily conduct. It also includes, by the way, every attorney who believes in objective facts – like the biological reality of male and female or the complementary nature of male and female in marriage. These are the people who some will insist be driven out of the profession.
It does make me wonder, as someone who’s heard a thousand times how crooked and deceitful lawyers are, why anyone would want to rid the profession of those few who are actually motivated by a sincere faith? One would think we should be clamoring for more conscience-driven professionals to guide and influence our legal system. Yet this rule has the potential only to drive them away.
Meanwhile, among the most disastrous consequences of the ABA’s decision, this rule effectively eviscerates one of the most sacrosanct and inviolable tenets of the legal profession – namely, that a lawyer cannot be compelled to represent or advocate on behalf of a client whose objectives are “repugnant” to the lawyer. It’s inherently a ‘conflict of interest’ – something an attorney is ethically obliged to avoid whenever possible – to pursue a client’s objective zealously and persuasively when the advocate personally opposes that interest to his very core.
More than simply not wanting to force an attorney into that ethical dilemma, we have always recognized that the client’s interests are much better served by having someone else represent them who is not similarly conflicted. The greatness of this recognition is that it applies equally and at all times to all attorneys, no matter their belief. It is obvious to the reasonable practitioners among us that, far from causing lawyers to be more “ethical” within their profession, this rule only bursts open Pandora’s Box from which endless new and irreconcilable ethical dilemmas will flow.
Given that it is now only a matter of time until the ABA’s new “misconduct” rule is introduced across the land, attorneys of conscience in each state need to be prepared to make the case as to why and how this new standard demeans the entire profession while subjecting faith-driven attorneys to its most direct harms. And if and when state Bars fail to see the folly of this rule and adopt it anyway, faith-driven attorneys licensed in those states should be prepared to make a decision about how they will respond on that soon-coming day of conflict. As for me, that decision is already made.
Joshua A. Hetzler, Esq.
Protecting Religious Schools
Protecting Religious Schools
Throughout the 2016 legislative session, we cautioned religious schools were at risk. We warned about the impending threats to Christian and other faith-based colleges from government as a result of those institutions’ contrary stance to the now-prevailing sexual dogma of “the only fixed standard is that no one may adhere to any fixed standards.”
We raised the issue of how much religious schools stood to lose in the volatile post-Obergefell environment – like the potential for losing licenses, accreditation, tax-exempt status, TAG grants for Virginia students, etc. – all for merely staying true to long-established and fundamental religious doctrines.
We urged the Governor to sign legislation passed by both the House and the Senate that would prevent an imminent Hobson’s Choice for religious schools across the Commonwealth. He declined, somehow chalking up the bill as being “bad for business”.
Now only a few months removed, in exactly one of the main ways we predicted, already one state – California – is poised to put into law a bill (SB 1146), which would prevent a student from otherwise receiving state-awarded “Cal Grant” funds toward the cost of their education at institutions that do not hire employees or accept student applicants whose “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” would violate the schools’ religious tenets. The bill also provides a basis for those individuals to file lawsuits against the institution, potentially costing them millions.
We can be confident that it’s only a matter of time until a Virginia legislator puts forward the same bill. I’d be shocked if there wasn’t one already in the pipe for the upcoming 2017 session.
For reasons that should be obvious, it is critical that we protect the right of religious schools to carry out their mission without being unfairly targeted and discriminated against by their government. In Virginia, that includes 27 religiously affiliated colleges and universities like Liberty, Regent, Patrick Henry, Christendom, Bluefield, and others. Virginia also has 968 private primary and secondary schools educating 136,323 students, 51% of which are religiously affiliated.
Hopefully, with California likely to begin putting its religiously affiliated schools on the chopping block, Terry McAuliffe will readily see that the only thing “bad for business” in this equation is the very real possibility of 27 colleges and roughly 494 K-12 schools in Virginia (read: 500+ businesses) closing their doors rather than bowing down to the king’s golden “statute”.