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John R. Kennelly, Fargo, Published June 02 2012

Religious liberty at stake

The bogey-men have been unleashed well in advance of Halloween this year. Letters to the editor as well as TV spots are creating the specter of sinister bishops, religious extremism, and a deluge of court cases to scare the voting public with regard to Measure 3. Never mind that the measure does not allow for unrestricted religious expression or extremism.

Under Measure 3, religion can be regulated if there is a compelling state interest in doing so. The need for protection of our religious freedom by an amendment to the state Constitution can be understood by looking at the cultural and governmental efforts to push religion out of public life and discourse. It’s called “freedom of worship” and it confines religious expression within the four walls of houses of worship and renders freedom of religion a second-class right that has no life in the public square.

Examples of recent state and federal government initiatives against religious institutions include Catholic Charities having to shut down their adoption services in Massachusetts and Illinois because of the states’ refusal to allow them to opt-out of placing children in homes with same- sex couples or unmarried, heterosexual couples. An Evangelical Lutheran school had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the federal government’s attempt to define for it, who qualified as a “minister.”

Passage of Measure 3 will make it less of a cakewalk for government to impose its will (be it an ideological agenda promoting self-interests or a legitimate, compelling state interest) over the rights of citizens and institutions to live, worship and function according to their consciences as formed by their firmly held religious beliefs.

A “yes” vote for Measure 3 means that religious liberty is important enough to protect from fluctuating attitudes of the state about religion in general or a particular denomination.