While hundreds of laws are passed in Albany every year, amendments to the New York State Constitution are rare. Yet, that is just what was proposed by New York legislators last week in an “extraordinary session,” and its results could have significantly weakened religious freedom in the state.
In response to the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which gave states more leeway to restrict abortions, New York legislators decided to do the opposite, and enshrine abortion rights, as well as that of various gender roles and identities, in its Constitution. Moreover, the “Equal Rights Amendment” would have afforded additional rights to some, but specifically excluded those protections for religion and creed.
Agudath Israel, working with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC); the Orthodox Union; and the New York State Catholic Conference, began an intense lobbying effort to protect religious rights. Working with the governor's office, counsel to the Senate Majority, and several senators and assemblymembers, we conveyed our deep concerns. After much deliberation, the Senate agreed to a modified version of the bill which added religious protections to the amendment and later passed in the Assembly.
Assemblymembers Simcha Eichenstein and Daniel Rosenthal were particularly helpful and worked diligently with their Assembly colleagues to amend the language.
“While the final bill didn’t address all of our concerns, we are relieved that creed and religion remain protected, as we could not accept having a second-class protection for religion,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudah’s Director of New York Government Relations. “We thank Governor Hochul as well as members of the Senate and Assembly for listening to those concerns."
Two consecutive elected legislatures must vote to pass a constitutional amendment in New York, followed by a ballot referendum to all voters. This week's action was the first step in that process.