Yesterday’s veto session was a depressing day in the State Capitol, characterized mainly by partisan cliches and stale speeches.
When the smoke had cleared, the Governor’s five vetoes were sustained while most of his amendments regarding “fiscal impact” were rejected.
One of the issues forced me to vote against the Democratic party line. Not surprisingly, it had to do with religious liberty.
SB 555 stated that that “religious content of sermons” given by chaplains in the National Guard should be free from state censorship, as long as the sermons did not promote a violation of orders.
(Note that freedom of religion is already guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, the National Guard Chaplains, who are volunteers, are still subject to state laws).
The original bill passed the Senate on a vote 0f 38-0 in January, before it became a target for conspiracy theorists who think that “sermons” are delivered to soldiers standing in formation. Amazingly, even the ACLU joined in OPPOSING a law which seemingly articulated the First Amendment.
Under pressure from interest groups, the Governor then vetoed the bill.
The Governor’s stated explanation was that Guardsmen would be subject to “proselytizing and sectarianism” if the Chaplains were not censored.
Of course, SB 555 only related to “sermons,” which is a talk given in a church or synagogue to a faith-based audience. It’s supposed to be sectarian. More critically, there was not a shred of evidence that today’s National Guard chaplains (or any military chaplains) are allowed to give “sermons” to unwilling listeners.
For that matter, SB 555 did not prevent the National Guard from restricting the hours, manner or delivery of religious services, or requiring that different faiths be represented. Those are all issues reserved to the discretion of the National Guard leadership, which had no objection. Again, the bill was solely limited to “religious content.”
Notwithstanding the explanation, the bill was vetoed for two reasons: (1) the sponsor was a conservative Republican, and (2) it was an item of interest to evangelical Christians.
In effect, it was pandering to secular progressives, by implying that the Governor was staving off a “theocracy” within Virginia’s military.
I don’t buy that. More importantly, I find that religious liberty is more compelling that liberal orthodoxy. Indeed, the censoring of religious content is the first step — and certainly not the last — towards a totalitarian society.
So I voted to override the veto. Alas, I was only joined by three other Democrats (Barker, Puckett and Colgan). So the veto was sustained on a 24-15 vote.
That was the main highlight for me. More thoughts on Medicaid and state budget at a later time …