Reproductive Rights

Church-State Separation Is On The Ballot Today

  Rob Boston

All eyes are on the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate today, as midterm elections will determine which party controls Congress. In addition, several candidates affiliated with Christian nationalism are seeking election to federal and state offices.

Several state ballot questions will impact church-state separation, including votes in five states on abortion rights.

Three states are voting on proposals to protect the right to abortion:

California: Golden State residents will vote on a constitutional amendment that would protect the right to abortion and access to contraceptives. The amendment states in part that the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

Michigan: Voters will decide whether to alter the state constitution to explicitly declare that abortion is protected in the state. The measure would also protect access to contraceptives. If the initiative fails, a strict 1931 law that bans abortions with no exceptions will go into effect.

Vermont: A ballot question would add language to the Vermont Constitution that says, “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Two states are considering proposals that would restrict abortion rights:

Kentucky: A ballot proposal would amend the state constitution to explicitly declare that nothing in that document protects a right to abortion. It would also prohibit taxpayer funding for abortions.

Montana: A so-called “born-alive” amendment would impose a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000 fine on any healthcare worker who doesn’t try to save a “born-alive infant.” The Kaiser Foundation reported that the term is defined “as a legal person who breathes, has a heartbeat, or has voluntary muscle movement after an abortion or delivery.” The measure is backed by Christian nationalist groups and was drafted by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion organization.

A few other jurisdictions are facing ballot issues with church-state overtones:

In Arkansas, voters will decide the fate of a “Religious Freedom Amendment” to the state constitution. It would prohibit the government from “burdening the practice of religion” without a compelling reason. Americans United and other critics say the measure is too sweeping and could lead to religion being used to harm or discriminate against others. (The state already has a similar measure as a statute.)

Tennessee voters are being asked if they want to remove an antiquated provision from the state constitution that bars members of the clergy from holding public office. The provision was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 and can’t be enforced. Tennessee’s Constitution also bars atheists from holding public office, a provision that has also been declared unconstitutional. However, that’s not on the ballot.

Finally, remember Jamestown Township in Michigan, where residents earlier this year voted to essentially defund their public library because some people were upset over the presence of LGBTQ-themed books? Voters will have an opportunity to revisit that issue today. If they fail to restore the funding, the Patmos Library will have to close.

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