If you follow any sort of Christian news outlets or have Christian friends on Facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve seen headlines like, “California Bans Bible Sales.” Or, as the title of a YouTube video I recently saw states it, CALIFORNIA BANS BIBLES!
The law in question is “California bill AB 2943, a measure that puts strict limits on programs that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation. The legislation, which passed out of the state assembly and over to the Senate, bans any advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual'” (PolitiFact.com).
A quick Google search will reveal that this Bill does not, in fact, ban Bibles. It doesn’t even ban churches from offering conversion therapy as long as they don’t charge for it (FactCheck.org). And the fact that Christian news outlets are relying on the false claim of Bible banning as a headline is undermining their credibility. This is click-bait at it’s worst, designed to scare Christian readers rather than start an actual dialogue about the real dangers of the bill. And anyone (even a Christian) with a logical, questioning mindset who fact-checks this claim will quickly find it’s wrong. And then why should they bother listening to what else the news article (or its source) has to say?
That’s what irritates me most about Christian response to this bill. They/we are not talking about what’s actually going on. We’re twisting facts to scare people. No wonder people accuse Christians of not being in touch with reality!
The reality is that California’s new law bars people who want to determine their own sexual orientation from getting help. It forbids people who have homosexual urges and want to change from seeking counseling, and it also stops people who could help them from offering counsel. There was already a law in place preventing “sexual orientation change efforts” for children under the age of 18, but this new bill restricts the rights of adults to voluntarily seek counselling. I’m sure the people who advocated for this law would be enraged were it reversed (forbidding people who’ve lived as heterosexual from exploring other options).
This sort of law shouldn’t just worry Christians. It should worry anyone who doesn’t want the government legislating their sex life, their access to mental health resources, or their religious expression.
The headline “California Bans Bibles” is inaccurate and misleading. It’s not responsible reporting. And it’s actually distracting from talking about what’s really going on. Why aren’t more Christian websites using a headline like, “California Restricts Adult Citizen’s Rights To Seek Counseling”? That gets to what’s actually going on and it’s something non-Christians might click on as well.
Once we’re talking about the human rights that California’s bill is restricting right now, then we can talk about the danger of it leading to more restrictions in the future. Because when a state assumes the power to dictate what sort of programs a church can offer, that’s a freedom of religion violation. And it’s not much of a leap to go from a vaguely worded prohibition against selling any program designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to banning books, which is a freedom of speech violation. This makes California’s bill a violation of everyone’s First Amendment rights. And that’s a much bigger story than the inaccurate claim that they’re banning Bibles.