Who’s Afraid of Virginia? Rather … Who Isn’t?

The Virginia state legislature is ruffling a lot of feathers recently—and heavily blurring the line between religion and government.

First, it passed a bill that would bar same-sex couples from adopting children—specifically it would allow state-funded faith-based agencies to turn away potential adoptive parents based on the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation or the agencies’ written religious policies.

Then, Republican lawmakers passed a “personhood” bill that would define life as beginning at conception—a move that could outlaw contraceptives and a definition for which there is no scientific consensus.

On the same day, another bill was passed that would require all women seeking abortions in the state of Virginia to have a transvaginal ultrasound before the procedure. The procedure is extremely invasive and usually medically unnecessary. Besides requiring an uncomfortable, unnecessary, and unwanted medical procedure, the bill’s goal seems to be to shame women into making a different decision that the state deems more morally acceptable.

These efforts in Virginia are lightly veiled—and sometimes blatant—insertions of theology into the state’s secular law. The Secular Coalition has been fighting against the efforts in Virginia and similar legislative efforts elsewhere.

Earlier this month the Secular Coalition urged our supporters in Virginia to reach out to their state representatives in opposition to the law that would add the religious refusal clause to Virginia’s child placement laws. Despite all efforts, the bill passed.

In November, we urged our supporters to vote against a Mississippi “personhood” ballot initiative very similar to the bill proposed in Virginia. The people of Mississippi overwhelmingly voted it down. Similar initiatives were voted down twice in Colorado.

What’s going on in Virginia represents just a few incidents in what has become an onslaught of religiously tinged legislation being rammed through state legislatures. Last week Oklahoma approved “personhood” legislation of its own, and the required ultrasound-before-abortion laws—much like the one in place in Texas—seem to be cropping up all over. Seven states now require abortion providers to perform ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion.

It’s a disturbing trend. Overzealous legislators pushing a top-down agenda that is both religious and imposing in nature—stripping citizens of their individual liberties, as well as the right to define their own personal moral, religious, and health beliefs and choices. 

Even more alarming is that after many of these efforts—such as the “personhood” initiatives—have been repeatedly turned down by even the most conservative voters, they are now being forced on the constituents by legislators. A recently released poll showed that 55 percent of Virginians are against the transvaginal ultrasound measure and only 36 percent support it.

It’s the lawmakers’ jobs to represent the voters, not to impose their particular brand of morality on the citizens. Instead, they are coming off like patronizing parents setting down rules for their children, rather than a body of public servants elected to represent the will of the people.

After receiving a lot of pressure—including 1,000 people lined up on the steps of the state Capitol in silent protest—Virginia lawmakers backed off slightly – the transvaginal ultrasound bill has been amended; it will still require an ultrasound, but not a transvaginal one. However, this doesn’t solve the larger problem the bill represents or the other troublesome pieces of legislation the Virginia statehouse has put forth. And as we’re seeing, it won’t solve the similar issues popping up around the country.

Legislators need to recognize that their personal beliefs are just that—personal. If they truly care about the positions they were elected to fulfill, they’d show a greater respect for the state Constitutions and the U.S. Constitution, respectively, they took an oath—or affirmed—to uphold.

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