Montana’s Official State Religion

The supermajority/Freedom Caucus is creating a state religion in Montana—Christianity—despite that our Constitution prohibits doing that.  Article II, section 5 states: “Freedom of Religion. The state shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (Italics added).

         Cases in point: House Bill 744, which would allow students and teachers to openly discuss religious beliefs; House Bill 745, which deals with religious texts and prayer in schools; and House Bill 502, which clarifies earlier legislation requiring parental notification of sex ed materials, all passed the House on mostly party-line votes, with Republicans for and Democrats against.

And then there’s Senate Bill 450: the Personal Freedom/Right of Conscience Act, provides that state agencies, local governments, licensed businesses, and schools must accept “without question” a “conscience exemption” for immunizations for purposes of employment or school attendance, and failure to do so constitutes illegal discrimination.

Focusing on schools, gone will be present requirements for vaccinations for measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and influenza type B. To claim the exemption the child simply provides a simple statement that says immunization is contrary to his/ her religious beliefs or a medical statement signed by a health care provider.

Senate Bill 450 might be better titled the “Anti-Vaxxers Relief Act.”

In December Federal District Judge Donald Molloy determined that House Bill 702, which prohibited employers from requiring vaccinations as part of employment was illegal in healthcare settings.

So, here’s how this works.  You, the parent, want to send your child to school in a setting that protects your child, to the extent possible, from the childhood diseases referred to above—some of which can cause very serious illness including death.

Well, that’s not going to be possible.  Another parent (or likely other parents) file a statement with the school that their children will not comply with the school’s vaccination requirements because they have a “conscience exemption” from such requirements.  This conscience exemption (which cannot be questioned) can be for any number or reasons: They might belong to one of few religions that actually prohibit vaccinations or just as likely, they belong to some right-wing group or church whose basic belief system involves giving the universal sign to the government in the name of their freedom or liberty, no matter what. Their reason can be legitimate or completely fanciful and illegitimate.

This legislation rejects public health, science, your kid’s health, their kid’s health. It elevates irresponsible parenting over responsible parenting and concern for one’s neighbor (a central tenant of Christianity, the last time I checked).

Frankly, if a parent doesn’t want their child vaccinated, so be it.  There’s nothing stopping them from enrolling their child in one of the sectarian schools the Governor constantly promotes (to the detriment of public education).  No doubt children enrolled in those schools are covered by a God-given insurance policy that the prevents any enrollee from childhood diseases.

At least the public schools ought to have the right to science-based requirements protecting the health and safety of the children trying to learn and teachers trying to teach in a disease-free environment.

Of course, this just scratches the surface—this supermajority/Freedom Caucus legislature is preoccupied with sex; everybody trying to out-Jesus the other—banning books, defining sexes according to the Bible, making the lives of trans people and LGTBQIA+ people a living hell, imposing a state religion on everyone.

Bottom line, if you’re not a Montana right-wing Christian, tough luck.  Move to Oregon–along with your kid, and the horse you rode in on.

James C. Nelson a retired Montana Supreme Court justice. He lives in of Helena.