Fighting for Religious Freedom, Constitutional Rights in 2020

Sen. Michael Testa

January was a monumental time in Trenton, as, once again, Democrats attempted to strip away another layer of our personal freedom.

I am proud to report that, with the help of thousands of parents – many with their precious children in tow – who descended on the statehouse to protest loud and long, the intrusive bill didn’t have enough legislative support and it was killed.

The invasive bill (S-2173) would have eliminated parental religious freedoms to decline vaccinations for their schoolchildren. After falling short on votes Dec. 16, it was amended to allow exemptions to continue for private schools, but legislative support fell apart again Jan. 14.

For the second time in a month, the voice of the people drowned out those of the most powerful politicians in the state.

In my few months in Trenton, I have seen a disturbing trend. There is an erosion of parental and religious rights happening in the Senate chamber. Politicians in Trenton are too quick and too willing to strip away individual liberties – Constitutional rights – from our citizens.

The legislation that failed rang of segregation, particularly for the inner city and middle-class families. In some sense, it evokes thoughts of 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education ruled that, “Separate education facilities are inherently unequal.”

New Jersey has always been a beacon of equality for other states to follow, but when the Senate voted to “fix” the legislation Jan. 9, an exemption for private schools was adopted. It created a caste system in the state, and signaled the return of “separate but equal.” If this were truly a public health issue, private schools would not get special treatment.

For the many New Jersey families with two working parents who are already struggling to make ends meet in the state with the highest property taxes in the nation, private school is no option at all. The only other recourse – homeschooling – is impractical for households with a single parent or two working parents.

The bill discriminated by denying education to children because of their religious beliefs and freedoms. Children should not be denied their legal right to public education.

The passion and zeal demonstrated by the mothers, fathers, and children in the Senate gallery, throughout the statehouse hallways, and in the courtyards outside is historic and must be recognized. I commend them for their efforts, and will continue to proudly stand with them on the right side of history. I believe the sleeping giant has been awoken.

The fight is not over. A new version of the bill will be rolled out with the support of the Democrats.

The attack on religious and Constitutional rights will continue, and those of us who value those rights will sustain our opposition.

To my colleagues in the Senate – each one who will play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the legislation – I remind them: “We cannot govern better than a parent can parent.”

If a new version of this bill passes and is signed into law, the fight has only just begun.

How can the leadership in Trenton even contemplate trading our freedoms for a class system that pits the “haves” against the “have nots?” What are they doing? 

ED. NOTE: Testa (R-1st) represents New Jersey’s 1st Legislative District.