Model State Legislation to Protect the Separation Between Religion and Government


State legislators who care about the constitutional principle of separation between state and church are usually on the offensive: working and voting against bills for vouchers for religious schools, against abortion bans and restrictions and against anti-LBGTQ measures.

Here are a number of proactive bills to introduce that protect individual liberties and fortify the “wall of separation.” Help put theocratic or Christian nationalist legislators on the defensive. The bills below will protect citizens from religious sway over our civil laws and social policy. The text of each bill referenced below can be easily obtained by reference to the bill numbers provided.


Abortion safe harbor bills. CT HB 5414 (enacted in Connecticut in 2022) expands eligibility to perform abortion care to include advanced nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants to perform first-trimester aspiration and medication abortions. It also protects individuals from extradition who are accused of seeking or providing reproductive health care that may be criminal in other states. It ensures that no individuals involved in reproductive health care can share information related to that health care unless the patient consents in writing to the disclosure. Further, the bill prohibits state agencies and health care providers from assisting in out-of-state investigations/prosecutions of reproductive health care. Anyone who is sued in another state regarding their involvement in reproductive health services that are legal in Connecticut can recover certain costs they incurred from defending themselves.

Preventing deceptive advertising practices by crisis pregnancy centers. CT S.B. 835 (enacted in Connecticut in 2021) is an act preventing deceptive advertising practices by limited services pregnancy centers. No limited pregnancy center can advertise or otherwise deceive patients about their services. The Attorney General can apply for injunctive relief of these centers to pay for and get rid of false advertising and correct deceptive advertising. This could muster bipartisan support.


The Affordable Care Act has a loophole permitting health care sharing ministries (HCSMs), which lack consumer protections, are largely unregulated and look like insurance but are not, preying on devout individuals. Some states have issued consumer alerts, but HCSMs need to be reined in.

One such effort is CO HB22-1269 (enacted in Colorado in 2022), which requires insurance pooling programs to submit basic operational information to the Division of Insurance (DOI) so the DOI can determine their market impact, financial viability, and truth-in-advertising. These insurance pooling programs are often misleading and do not cover health care coverage they advertise. They have all the negatives of insurance companies without any of the consumer protection.


Many nonbelievers have objections to 12-step programs predicated on giving public and personal obeisance to a “Higher Power.” Secular alternatives must exist, especially in sentencing programs, to protect freedom of conscience.

NY A.8163A (enacted in New York in 2022) provides a secular alternative to 12-step programs for inmates, requiring written notice to defendants informing them of their right to a non-religious treatment program when the court orders them to attend an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.


Laws against blasphemy are unconstitutional in the United States, but in some countries blasphemy is punishable by death. U.S. courts should never send a child to a foreign country where they risk such a punishment.

Ordinarily, states will honor foreign custody orders, sending children abroad when asked to do so by a foreign court, under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The UCCJEA has been adopted by every state except Massachusetts, and is used to determine which state should determine the custody of children. But it treats foreign countries as though they were other U.S. states, and other than a very narrow exception, the UCCJEA requires courts to honor these foreign orders.

States should amend their UCCJEA to allow courts to ignore foreign custody orders that would result in a possible death penalty in a foriegn jurisdiction due to laws against blasphemy, or other unjust criminal laws that shock the conscience of American liberty, such as harsh penalties for religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or political beliefs.

Washington is currently the only state to have done this, with WA HB 1042 (enacted in 2021).


Less than half of U.S. states have enacted laws banning the debunked practice of “conversion therapy,” purporting to convert a minor from being gay or bisexual into being straight. These are almost always predicated on religious beliefs. CO HB19-1129 (enacted in 2019) is an example of banning conversion therapy for minors.

Existing bans have run into practical problems in some states. For example, some bans apply only to registered therapists, while in practice, conversion therapy is often conducted by religious clergy rather than by licensed therapists. Additionally, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (affecting Florida, Georgia and Alabama) reached a bizarre conclusion in 2020 that therapists have a Free Speech right to conduct conversion therapy despite the consensus from medical professionals that the practice is illegitimate. Those states will require creative solutions to protect LGBTQ youth, while every state outside the 11th Circuit that has not done so already should enact strong conversion therapy bans immediately.


Up to 84 percent of teens have either missed class time or know someone who has missed class time because they lacked access to menstruation hygiene products. Shaming girls for getting their periods is deeply embedded in patriarchal religious traditions.

Bills can be introduced to ensure that menstrual products are available in public restrooms (including schools and prisons) and are tax-free. DC B24-0158 (enacted in 2021) is simple, nonpartisan and offers great benefits, especially to low income constituents. It requires public high schools and universities to stock all women’s and gender neutral restrooms with a dispenser for period products—tampons, sanitary pads, or liners—at no cost to the product user, and for elementary schools to maintain at least one such restroom. These products are instrumental to the general health and welfare of the public, and prevent the spread of germs, reduce the transmission of bloodborne pathogens, and improve the general welfare.

VT S.53 (enacted in 2022) exempts menstrual products from sales tax, helping to correct an underappreciated lingering effect of the religious stigma on women. No one should miss time at class or work simply because they cannot afford these basic sanitary products.


In the U.S., more than 500,000 women and girls have undergone or are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), whether in the U.S. or during “vacation cutting” trips to countries of origin. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that a federal ban on FGM was unconstitutional, and that state must regulate the practice themselves.

KY S.B. 72 (enacted in 2020) is a bill that made FGM a felony. It requires proper training and education regarding FGM and requires that a person reports if a child they know, or have reason to know, was victim to FGM. This is a great opportunity for bipartisan legislation that criminalizes an unambiguously harmful, disgusting practice. Religion should never be an excuse to violate neutral, generally applicable laws, and even those who push for religious exemptions to other laws understand that mutilating children’s genitals based on religious belief must be treated as criminal behavior.


Even before the pandemic, the drive to exempt children from vaccinations on religious grounds was growing. Boston University reports that although the United States thought it had eliminated measles in the year 2000, more than 981 cases were confirmed in 26 states in 2019. A majority of states allow a religious exemption for schoolchildren immunization requirements. FFRF’s position is that religious and philosophical objections to vaccines should not be allowed. The science should be followed so herd immunity protects children or adults who for genuine health reasons cannot be vaccinated.

CT H.B. 6423 (enacted in 2021) creates restrictions on vaccine exemptions to only accept medical exemptions for not being vaccinated. Another example is DC B23-0171 (enacted in 2021), which allows competent minors to opt into vaccinations without parental permission. Parents’ unfounded and dangerous skepticism about crucial vaccines should not allow them to jeopardize the lives of their children or their communities.


Creating protections against Catholic hospitals acquiring secular hospitals and eliminating access to care due to dogma is vital, not just for reproductive rights and rights for rape victims but for individuals who object to extraordinary measures when they are terminally ill or dying.

OR H.B. 2362 (enacted in 2021) requires mergers and acquisitions by health care companies to be approved by the state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services and Oregon Health Authority. There must be a board to review these mergers and acquisitions, to make sure patients are receiving adequate health care. In particular, Catholic hospitals often refuse to provide certain medical services, and allowing them to acquire other hospitals can leave geographical areas without access to those services, endangering the health and lives of those communities simply because of religious dogma.


Currently, only eleven jurisdictions allow terminally ill patients to die in the manner they choose, with the assistance of a physician, rather than being forced to endure a long, painful, and dehumanizing end of life experience.

NM H.B. 47 (enacted in 2021) includes many safeguards to address the common concerns about this legislation. Patients seeking this end-of-life care must pass a mental competency screening, there is a 48-hour waiting period before the medication can be taken, and more. Jurisdictions with similar laws since the 1990s have not seen the abuse that opponents always promise such laws will bring.

The only remaining objection to death with dignity or aid-in-dying laws are religiously motivated beliefs that end-of-life care encroaches on God’s jurisdiction of deciding when someone dies. Such beliefs have no place in secular legislatures, which should uniformly pass this legislation.

For more information, please go to

Freedom From Religion Foundation
PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53701

Freedom From Religion Foundation