Letters for May 16, 2013

Support the First Amendment

Re “War on women: The Nevada front” (Left Foot Forward, May 2):

Former State Senator Leslie’s May 2, 2013, column about the bipartisan Nevada Preservation of Religious Liberty Act, Senate Bill 192, is more partisan vitriol of the type that Nevada voters have rejected over the past several election cycles. Voters have asked their elected officials to move beyond the so-called “culture wars” and work together to enact laws and policies that benefit all Nevadans.

Nevadans, men and women of all faith groups, need SB 192 enacted to strengthen the protections Nevadans have historically enjoyed to freely exercise the convictions of their faith and conscience. In this regard, the purpose of SB 192 is to strengthen that protection by enacting into law the “strict scrutiny” standard used to determine religious freedom cases at the federal level, as well as in 27 other states. When the government at any level takes action that burdens a citizen’s religious freedom, this standard requires the government to prove that its action(s) are (1) essential to achieve a compelling governmental interest, and (2) the least restrictive means of achieving that compelling interest. SB 192 will guarantee the State will not substantially burden the free exercise of religion and a person’s right to act in accordance with his or her conscience without a compelling justification.

After SB 192 was unanimously passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed the Senate on April 22, the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) delivered a memorandum responding to a senator’s question regarding “whether SB 192 would cause health care professionals to take certain actions that conflict with their religious beliefs.” Contrary to Ms. Leslie’s bold assertions, LCB—which has provided reliable legal counsel to both parties for decades—confirmed that SB 192 will do exactly what the bipartisan sponsors said it would do. “Should SB 192 be enacted, a court analyzing the constitutionality of a government action alleged to violate a person’s free exercise of religion would require the plaintiff to show that the conduct of the plaintiff constitutes the free exercise of religion.” In this regard, LCB confirmed that SB 192 enacts a legal standard to protect the free exercise rights of all, not the means to guarantee an outcome benefit for a preferred group or political cause.

Ms. Leslie’s concern about a woman’s reproductive rights in parts of the state where doctors or pharmacists are few in number is unfounded for several reasons.

In the nearly 20 years since the enactment of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), as well as the 15 years since the enactment of the first state RFRA, there are no recorded cases under either the federal RFRA or any state RFRA where either (a) a pharmacist has been permitted to refuse to provide contraceptives or morning after pills based on his or her deeply held religious beliefs, or (b) an emergency room physician has been permitted to refuse to abort a child in emergent circumstances based on his or her deeply held religious beliefs. Ms. Leslie has created a phantom threat based on fear, fantasy and gross speculation.

SB 192 does not provide that a pharmacist or other health care provider has the right to refuse to provide contraception or to perform an abortion in emergency circumstances.

Nothing in S.B. 192 changes this established law.

Senator Barbara Cegavske

Senate District 8

Faith-based law

Re “War on women: The Nevada front” (Left Foot Forward, May 2):

In response to former State Senator Leslie’s May 2, 2013, column about the bipartisan Nevada Preservation of Religious Liberty Act, let me be clear: Senate Bill 192 is not about the broader culture war regarding such issues as whether an unborn child has a right to life or whether a woman has a right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. SB 192 is simply codifying a standard that will guarantee that free exercise of religion will be afforded the same protections as other civil liberties protected by the Nevada and U.S. Constitutions. SB 192 is not a sword to inflict violence on the rights of women, as Ms. Leslie has recklessly asserted. Rather, SB 192 is a shield to prevent the state government from inflicting violence on the constitutional rights of people with sincerely held religious beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be.

Many states have enacted legislation patterned after the federal RFRA in order to provide additional protection for the free exercise of religion. State RFRAs have been enacted in about 14 states. These include progressive states like Illinois and Rhode Island as well as more conservative states like Alabama and Idaho. Meanwhile, six more states, through state court decisions, have established a “compelling interest test.”

Notably, there have not been any recorded cases where women’s reproductive rights have been attacked or otherwise undermined. Likewise, there has not been one case under a state RFRA that has permitted a person to unlawfully discriminate against any protected class of persons based on deeply held religious beliefs and the free exercise of those beliefs. However, if federal precedent is any indication on how these cases might be decided if one did arise, the U.S. Supreme Court, when applying strict scrutiny, has already held unequivocally in Bob Jones University v. United States that the government has a fundamental, overriding, and compelling interest in eradicating discrimination and that such an interest substantially outweighs whatever burden enforcing anti-discrimination laws may have on a person’s free exercise rights.

Finally, Ms. Leslie’s curious commentary on some supposed “right wing conspiracy” to attack the rights of women has no foundation in fact. Bipartisan sponsors of SB 192 are simply asking that a fair legal standard be applied to all cases that substantially burden the free exercise of religion and conscience of all men and women in Nevada regardless of what faith they profess.

Senator Mark Hutchison

Senate District 6

We miss you, too

Re “A beer to remember” (Feature story, May 9):

Some “red-state” people might not be into BJ’s or Brewhouse. Maybe some of us like the local businesses and mom and pop ventures. Maybe we like the way Reno has this energetic vibe and courage to even start businesses in these somewhat tumultuous times. This “red-stater” is happy to read about all the new businesses, farms, restaurants that have sprung up in the area. I grew up in Reno and have seen so many changes over the years and applaud local new businesses. I try to stay away from corporate chain restaurants. Keep it in the community! I am presently living out of state, but we are definitely moving back ASAP! Oh, and by the way, this “red-stater” always reads the Reno News & Review and has really missed the paper copies each week.

Candy Webb

Tilton, N.H.

Historic destruction

Re “A landmark case” (Green, May 9):

On the eve of Nevada’s Sesquicentennial Celebration it is sad to think one small mining company can open pit mine within this important historic landmark. Historic landmarks are not renewable resources. A kiosk explaining what was does not make up for the destruction left by open pit mining. Donating money to help preserve another historic site does not negate the damage done by open pit mining. This important Nevada landmark should be preserved for our future generations. Why are “we” allowing this to happen? Open pit mining is not historic!

Barbara Peck

Dayton