Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vetoed a bill that would have protected the rights of clergy to deliver sermons at events of the state National Guard.
The veto was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union and condemned by the conservative Family Foundation, The Virginian-Pilot
would have blocked the state government from interfering with the religious content of sermons made by National Guard and Virginia Defense Force chaplains.
The legislation was passed in the state Senate 37-0 and in the House of Delegates 69-29, the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Social conservatives said the legislation would have protected religious expression from censorship.
In his veto message, McAuliffe said the bill would potentially expose National Guard members to proselytizing at mandatory meetings.
The bill was championed by Sen. Dick Black, a Republican from Loudoun County. Black said he viewed the veto as an implicit expression of antagonism to Christianity. "The thrust is to avoid chaplains saying things that are politically incorrect but biblically sound," The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Republican Sen. Bill Carrico, a former state trooper, said McAuliffe was trying to control what people believe or say. He said he hoped there would be enough votes to override the governor's veto.
The Family Foundation said in a statement that the governor had vetoed what was "a common sense, uncontroversial bill" at the urging of the ACLU.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of ACLU Virginia, said, "While purporting to protect the religious freedom of chaplains, this bill would have undermined the religious freedom of service members."
McAuliffe wrote in his veto message that military chaplains were free to sermonize at voluntary worship services and unofficial private gatherings, but that they didn't "have the right to use official, mandatory events as a platform to disseminate their own religious views," according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Lawmakers will have a chance to override the governor's veto on April 23, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
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