2022 Legislative Session In Review: Preserving Religious Liberty

New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF) exists to educate, encourage, and equip Christians for effective participation in New York government. This 2022 Legislative Session in Review feature summarizes major policy developments that occurred in the New York State Legislature this year in regard to religious liberty.

In 2022, the State Legislature passed two bills that are dangerous to religious liberty and gave first passage to a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that also has deeply troubling religious liberty implications. Overall, the climate in Albany this year has been hostile to religious liberty, as the liberal-dominated Legislature’s misguided support for abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism brought it into repeated conflict with the principles and practices of Bible-believing Christians.      

As discussed under “Protecting Human Life” above, this year’s budget legislation included an abortion insurance mandate. In addition to promoting abortion, the insurance mandate also created religious liberty concerns. Insurance policies provided by religious employers are exempted from the mandate, but the exemption only applies to churches, associations of churches, and religious orders. Faith-based charities and family-owned businesses that offer employee health coverage are required to provide abortion coverage. Furthermore, even if an employer qualifies for the exemption, its insurance company is required to offer abortion coverage to that employer’s workers through a rider to the insurance policy. Forcing faith-based charities and Christian businesses to fund abortion is an egregious violation of their free exercise of religion, and NYFRF hopes that the abortion insurance mandate will be challenged in court.

Like the abortion insurance mandate, the so-called Equality Amendment (also discussed under “Preserving Human Life” above) threatens religious liberty. If the Equality Amendment is adopted, its prohibitions against discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive healthcare and autonomy” could be weaponized by the state to compel faith-based hospitals to provide abortions and “sex change” procedures.

Another setback for religious liberty occurred on June 6, 2022 when Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Bill S.4511-A-Kaplan/A.7865-A-Fahy into law. This law requires each social media network to provide a mechanism allowing users to inform that network about hateful conduct occurring on that network’s internet platform. As New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms stated in its memorandum of opposition, this law could be used to target Christians as “haters” simply for speaking out on social media about their opposition to homosexuality or transgenderism.

Two anti-religious-liberty bills passed the State Senate in 2022, but failed to receive Assembly votes. The Targeting Hospitals that Refuse to Abort for Subsequent Harassment Bill (the THRASH Bill) (Bill S.5400-Hinchey/A.6334-Rozic) passed the New York State Senate on May 24, 2022. The THRASH Bill would require the New York State Department of Health to annually collect from every general hospital a list of procedures that its personnel are not allowed to perform. The required list would be published on the Department of Health’s website. The purpose behind the bill is to find out which areas of the state have “gaps” in hospital-provided abortion services. Armed with that information, abortion advocates and their allies in state government would likely pressure faith-based hospitals to change their policies. Similar pressure could be applied to faith-based hospitals that do not offer “gender transition” procedures. Opposing this bill in 2023 should be a major priority for Christian New Yorkers.

The State Senate also passed Bill S.8061-Reichlin-Melnick/A.10530-Rules (Gonzalez-Rojas) in 2022. This bill would bar the state of New York from contracting with any entity that declines to provide insurance coverage for ‘transgender’ procedures, “including but not limited to hormone replacement therapy, gender-affirming surgery, and treatment typically associated with one particular gender.” The legislation is clearly intended to target faith-based charities.

NYFRF is pleased to report that two bills that would harm Christian schools did not advance in 2022. One such bill, Bill S.722-Hoylman/A.7399-Jean-Pierre, would apply the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) to nonpublic schools. This bill would require Christian schools to give “transgender” students access to opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms and to allow “transgender” students to compete in opposite-sex sporting events. Bill S.6423-Jackson/A.7055-Seawright would empower the New York State Education Department to “undertake regular reviews” of nonpublic schools to ensure that the education they provide is substantially equivalent to the education provided by public schools in the same area. Christian New Yorkers must be vigilant in opposing bills like these, as they would allow state government to meddle in the affairs of Christian schools and to turn those schools in a worldly direction.

Three pro-religious-liberty bills failed to advance in 2022. Bill S.2677-Gallivan/A.9913-DiPietro would restore a religious exemption to state vaccination requirements for schoolchildren. Bill S.2567-Gallivan would give churches the freedom to sell church-owned property in certain circumstances without obtaining permission from a court or from the New York Attorney General.  Bill S.7072-A-Gaughran/A.7583-Galef would allow churches and other nonprofit organizations that acquire real property to seek exemptions from real property taxation immediately.