By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
DES MOINES — Every person is made in the image of God and has certain rights and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to participate in the public life of the community. House Study Bill 68 is a state constitutional amendment which would return voting rights to felons after they have served their sentence. The Iowa Poll released by the Des Moines Register has found a high level of support for the measure. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) believes it would promote the civic engagement of those re-entering the community.
House Study Bill 68 has been approved by a subcommittee and now awaits action in the House State Government Committee.
You can let the members of the committee know that you support the measure. Iowa is one of only two states that withhold the vote from felons after they serve their sentence.
A bill to allow student groups, including religious ones, to choose their leadership in alignment with their beliefs passed the Senate Education Committee last week on a bipartisan vote. Senate File 274 now is eligible for debate by the Senate.
Several bills were considered by subcommittees in the Iowa Senate last week to add additional work and reporting requirements for some persons receiving government services such as SNAP (food stamps) or Medicaid. People have a right to assistance if they need it to survive and, at the same time, have an obligation to work if they are able. From our religious perspective, work is one way we imitate God, who is the great Creator.
These bills concern a population that is already at serious risk for health and welfare. The ICC is concerned that the proposals being considered would push people off the assistance programs not because they are ineligible but because of red tape and additional reporting requirements.
State Senate to look at gun rights; religious freedom
This week the Senate will hold its subcommittee hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 10, which would apply “strict scrutiny” to any restrictions on the rights of person to use or carry guns. The House’s version of this amendment passed a subcommittee a couple of weeks ago. The ICC opposes the amendment because it would make any future regulation of weapons difficult and the ICC believes it would put current regulations in peril. The United States has higher levels of gun ownership than any other country and the bishops believe that weapons are simply too accessible.
A “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Senate File 240, is set to be considered by a Senate subcommittee this week. The ICC supports the bill. This formerly uncontroversial proposal is very similar to the federal RFRA law that has been in place since the early 1990s. This bill provides a standard of review for the court when a conflict exists between the First Amendment’s protection of “free exercise of religion” and a law. It says that government should not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it can be demonstrated that applying that burden is a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
Here are examples why the ICC believes the law would be helpful: The Iowa Supreme Court has found a fundamental right to abortion in the state. Yet state law also allows persons to refuse to participate in an abortion. How will that law be interpreted in the future? A specific religious group has been singled out by a state university and no longer allowed to choose its own leadership.Many business groups in Iowa have registered in opposition to SF 240. The bill is controversial because many are looking at it primarily through the lens of LGBTQ (gay rights) issues.
Senate File 240 would treat all religious practice equally. More than half of the states have a very similar law or provision due to court action.Finally, the Iowa Catholic Conference legislative breakfast was held Feb. 19. Iowa’s bishops, board and committee members had an opportunity to chat with lawmakers about the ICC’s legislative priorities. The ICC is the public policy voice for Iowa’s bishops. Visit the ICC website for www.iowacatholicconference.org for more information.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)