By Linda Boyd, Published June 10 2012
What’s real agenda of Measure 3?‘Sorry, that’s against my religion.”
That tongue-in-cheek wisecrack would get the full weight of the North Dakota Constitution behind it if Measure 3 passes next week.
While much has been said about the infringement on the rights of others that this measure could usher in – pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, an uptick in domestic violence, housing discrimination, teachers opting to abandon established curricula, etc. – I am particularly concerned by the radical difference in North Dakota’s proposed measure from similar ones enacted in several other states.
But first, a little history.
In a case involving the use of peyote by Native Americans, the United States Supreme Court decided in 1990 that the government no longer had to justify making allowances for religious observation unless a particular religion was being singled out for discriminatory treatment.
This caused the pendulum to swing too far. While laws don’t single out specific religions to discriminate against, there are unintended consequences. Congress passed a federal remedy in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which returned matters to the way they were prior to 1990.
Many states are passing their own versions of this act, but North Dakota’s Measure 3 is radically different from the others. In those states, a substantial burden on religious beliefs must be proven to exist. North Dakota’s Measure 3 would allow individuals to challenge any perceived burden on their religious beliefs, direct or indirect.
When I asked Scott to name just one thing that he, as a Catholic, was not free to do today that this constitutional amendment could remedy, he could not name one thing and called my question a red herring. Yet he supports changing our state constitution to a degree that legal scholars across the nation are describing as radical? For what purpose, I wonder.
Actually, no, I don’t wonder. When Catholic priests are preaching their support for this measure from pulpits, it’s clear that there is a very strong agenda at play. Should the Catholic hierarchy supporting this measure get their way, I suspect it ultimately might not bode well for women seeking to get their prescriptions for contraception filled at local pharmacies throughout our sparsely populated state.
Oliver Thomas, who chaired the coalition that drafted the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, noted in USA Today, “North Dakota’s proposed constitutional amendment would eliminate the requirement that a government-imposed burden be ‘substantial.’ …If this is making you nervous, it should. It carries a faint odor of theocracy.”
Our religious freedom is already guaranteed and protected by our federal and state constitutions. What we do not need is a constitutional green light for individuals to flaunt laws they don’t like by simply saying, “That’s against my religion.” Vote “no” on Measure 3.
Boyd is a Fargo School Board member and executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra.