Under the Guise of Protecting Religion, Alaska State House Passes Law That Will Likely Target Christians

(Photo of church candles by Pascal Müller on Unsplash)

The phrase “the Devil’s in the details” is mean to urge caution, particularly when passing laws that create stiff penalties under the guise of some laudable goal. The laudable goal in this case is the protection of religious property. Unfortunately, the political incentives in Juneau in 2024 frequently encourage lawmakers to cast votes based on how liberal media outlets are likely to portray a new law, rather than the details of the law itself, where the Devil may actually be hiding.

House Bill 238, sponsored by Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), is a current and particularly frightening example of this. House Bill 238 has the stiff penalties of a hate crimes law, but without the safeguards that might be expected to prevent such laws from being abused. Given our current political environment, we can have every confidence that this law will be used to persecute Christians.

The bill has been marketed as a property rights bill, but only for “religious” property. That is a red flag.

During debate, legislators supporting the bill loudly announced that it will be used to protect the “Satanic Temple” and “Mosques”. That is a second red flag.

As passed by the house, the bill makes it a felony to “deface, damage, or desecrate” any property that is used “by a religious organization” or “for any religious purpose”.

A competing version of the bill in the senate would likewise make it a felony to “deface or damage” any property that has “religious significance” and is “displayed for educational purposes” or used by a religious organization.

A Christian veteran damaged a pagan idol to Satan in the Iowa State Capitol and was charged with a hate crime earlier this year. This bill would establish similar penalties here in Alaska.

If convicted, an individual would be looking at up to five years in prison, up to a $50,000 fine, and would lose their right to possess firearms for life. As a felon, it would also be illegal for any family members living with them to possess firearms in the home.

Normally, hate crimes bill such as this require that the crime be committed intentionally. However, the writers of this bill thought that was too high a standard for prosecutors to have to prove, and so they opted for the lesser “knowing” standard instead.

This bill effectively grants broad discretion to prosecutors over who will be charged under these new crimes.

Under the version of the bill passed in the house, you can now be guilty of a felony for merely damaging property, even if the property is only slightly damaged, and even if you had no intention of committing a hate crime or of targeting a religious organization.

The author of the bill had to exempt employees of religious organizations for accidentally causing damage under the bill because he set the threshold for prosecution lower than “intentionally”. As the legislature’s attorneys confirmed, there is no such exemption in the bill for volunteers, or members of the public.

We have been fighting and stopping hate crime bills like this for years. Who knew that all you needed to do was change the marketing, call it a “religious protection” bill and Republican legislators would immediately jump on board to pass it?

With enactment of this bill into law it becomes a felony to “desecrate” any property “used for any religious purpose”.

If you thought it was bad when they made it illegal to refuse to bake a cake for a wedding, this is so much worse.