Slow, steady progress toward a secular set of state laws

Activists report on the slow, steady lobbying work in this year's General Assembly session of making state laws and practices neutral toward religious faith -- or lack of it. A report card from the Secular Coalition for Maryland.

 /By Mathew Goldstein/ The Secular Coalition for Maryland (SCMD) aims to keep our law and government free of provisions and practices that privilege religious beliefs or that discriminate against non-theists. The organization monitored, and lobbied, the 2016 General Assembly against government privileging religious institutions and practices. Religious liberty is one of the basic tenets of secularism that we support.  However, some people's religious belief based claims, when implemented via laws or government practices, may conflict with other people's freedoms, civic equality, health, or safety.  We want our government laws and practices to give claims based on religious beliefs the lower priority when there is such a conflict.

 SCMD opposed 25 bills that allow discrimination by places of public accommodation, grant a loan that supports membership discrimination against non-theists, provide tax credits for donations to private religious schools, allow institutions to forbid but not to mandate a legal medical procedure, further restrict access to abortion based on unsubstantiated assertions about pain, create a sales tax exemption that supports membership discrimination against non-theists, privilege student prayer in non-free speech contexts, direct voters to decide if alcohol will be sold on Sundays, extend a loan to place of worship, repeal licensing of Sunday alcohol sales, prohibit government funding of abortions and insurance that covers abortions, and call for overturning Roe v. Wade on the grounds that life begins at conception.

SCMD supported 25 bills that require insurers to provide surrogate pregnancy benefits, allow more Sunday hunting, allow privately schooled children to participate in public school programs, require publication of video of government meetings, give terminally ill an option to voluntarily hasten death with barbiturates, provide citizens with information on legal end of life options, generalize wording of a law by replacing "church" with "house of worship", allow more Sunday alcohol sales, replace the Monday after Easter Sunday school state holiday with local decision, require insurers to cover contraception without fees or prior authorization, and require schools receiving government funds to not discriminate.

 A scorecard spreadsheet is available here to show how these bills fared and how each legislator voted.

 This year two lawmakers agreed with the Secular Coalition for Maryland (SCMD) more often than everyone else.  They are Delegates Alfred C. Carr Jr. of District 18 in Montgomery County and Eric Ebersole of District 12 in Baltimore and Howard Counties. Eighteen additional Delegates and one Senator frequently agreed with SCMD.  Congratulations to them.  Two Delegates disagreed with SCMD more often than anyone else.  They are Delegates Susan K. McComas of District 34B in Harford County and Tony McConkey of District 33 in Anne Arundel County.  Three additional Delegates and three Senators often disagreed with SCMD.  The 2016 legislative recap briefly describes some of this year's issues.

 The spreadsheet shows scores ranging from 8 to -4 for each lawmaker so that you can see how your elected representative voted on these issues of conscience and personal liberty.  Senators are identified by light blue rows. Delegate Zucker became Senator Zucker in February.  He is identified as a Senator but on some bills he voted as Delegate.  The House bills opposed by the SCMD are followed by the Senate bills we opposed.  Then the House bills and Senate bills we supported are listed.  When the same bill originates in both chambers we tally them as two different bills.

 Bold bill numbers on the top row indicates that there was a final floor vote.  An underline indicates final floor votes in both chambers.  Italics indicates that at least one floor vote was unanimous. Unanimous floor votes in either chamber are not counted.  Sponsorships and cosponsorships are counted when there was no final floor vote in the chamber where the bill originated. Committee votes are counted separately.  Committee votes are prefixed or suffixed with a "c".  No vote and no sponsorship or cosponsorship is assigned a zero. If SCMD agrees with a vote, or sponsorship, or cosponsorship, then it is assigned a one, otherwise it is assigned negative one.  The SCMD Lobbying Actions web page has links to the bills.

 Mathew Goldstein is chair of the Secular Coalition for Maryland.