Nel's New Day

June 11, 2012

North Dakota Religious Freedom Amendment – Marriage Equality?

“Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A burden includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” 

This is the measure that North Dakota voters decide on tomorrow. If passed, this measure would change the state constitution. Supporters maintain that they want to reinstate protections lost in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, a ruling that the First Amendment doesn’t let people break laws in the name of religion.

If passed, Measure 3 would let a pharmacist refuse HIV medication to LGBT patients because of a religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. Or let a nurse at a publicly funded hospital refuse to provide prenatal care to an unmarried pregnant women because of religious beliefs that premarital sex is wrong. On the other side, religious groups could use taxpayer funds for religious reasons while discriminating against some groups.

According to Robert Doody, executive director of the ACLU of the Dakotas, “this proposed amendment could lead people to refuse to follow virtually any law. It could allow people to argue that they have a right to abuse their children, refuse to hire people of different faiths, or deny emergency health care.

Alex J. Luchenister, Associate Legal Director for American’s United for Separation of State and Church wrote, “Measure 3 could force the state government to provide taxpayers funds to religious groups. It would also cause religious groups to be favored over non-religious groups. As a result of Measure 3 religious groups and persons could claim exemptions from laws intended to protect people’s rights, such as laws requiring the provision of reproductive health services or prohibiting the infusion of religion into public education.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci J. Hamilton added that the North Dakota Religious Freedom Amendment is “an opportunity to unilaterally adjust public policy to fit each religious individual’s and organization’s world view.” 

Right now, government is burdening LGBT people’s religious liberty by stopping marriage equality. Does North Dakota intend that this measure will allow same-sex marriage? LGBT people who cannot get legally married face over 1,000 burdensome laws, many of which withhold benefits and assess penalties.

If North Dakota voters pass Measure 3, they had better be prepared for a multitude of court battles.

1 Comment »

  1. I read the first quote as protecting us. Wrong.


    Comment by lynchly — June 11, 2012 @ 9:24 PM | Reply

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