Governor Lincoln Chafee wisely vetoed the “Choose Life” license plate bill last night, holding fast to his oath to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.
The bill, which would have put the state of Rhode Island in the dubious position of passing the collection plate for CareNet, an Evangelical church posing as a crisis pregnancy center, was hastily cobbled together and forced through the General Assembly at the 11th hour by Senate President M Teresa Paiva-Weed as a sop to religiously conservative groups still sore about the passage of marriage equality.
Not only did Governor Chafee veto a bad piece of legislation, he also sent a strong rebuke to a Senate President and General Assembly that plays fast and loose with rules when doing so becomes politically expedient and self-serving.
Some conservative religious figures in Rhode Island have been busy rationalizing the bill and obfuscating the meaning of the First Amendment and the principle of separation of church and state, sowing confusion in the hopes that their anti-American, theocratic agenda can gain a foothold in our legal system. It is fortunate that Governor Chafee stood strong against this bill because the lawsuit that would inevitably arise has the potential to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Defending the “Choose Life” license plates would put taxpayers on the hook for this defense, to the tune of potentially millions of dollars. Under this analysis vetoing the bill becomes a form of fiscal prudence.
Governor Chafee, in vetoing this bill, also stood by women and his pro-choice values. Women’s rights and access to reproductive health care are under serious attack across the country. A “Pro-Choice” license plate is small potatoes when compared to some of the legislative outrages occurring in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere, but it is telling that a bill like this could be passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly in the same year that a bill that sought to increase funding for women’s health failed. The priorities of the General Assembly are profoundly out of whack, and the Governor’s veto may serve as a needed corrective.
Here in Rhode Island, we not only respect the core American principles of freedom of (and from) religion and freedom of conscience, we invented them. The founder of our state, Roger Williams, ensured that Rhode Island was the first government, anywhere on Earth, that separated the church from the state. This radical principle has helped transform the world from one in which a person’s beliefs were forced upon them by a theocratic and capricious government under threat of banishment, imprisonment or death to one where free thought and free expression are the norm.
Governor Chafee did a small thing when he added his signature to that veto yesterday, but he also did a great thing, when he defended your right to conscience and expression.
Thank you, Governor Chafee.