Three Lessons on Religious Freedom from North Dakota

Written by Lon Newman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The sun sets over a Catholic chapel.
St. Mary's Catholic Church in North Dakota (Photo: Michael Arrighi / Flickr)

June 12th, in North Dakota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment (Measure 3) that, in the name of religious freedom, would in reality have empowered institutional discrimination. The voters affirmed constitutional protections for the free exercise of religious belief and against the establishment of state-protected discrimination by religious institutions and religious affiliates.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) supported Measure Three and there are three strong reasons voters rejected it. The same reasoning applies to the current USCCB campaign against a federal requirement of insurance to cover contraceptives:

  • Institutions which accept tax-exemptions and/or public funds must abide by the fundamental individual protections of our constitution including those against racial discrimination. Sex-discrimination should have equal prohibitions.
  • Accepting public funds and/or tax exemption requires compliance with public standards imposed upon all of us. In the case of Catholic clinics and hospitals, for example, a majority of Catholics agree with conscience protections for individuals, for example in direct provision of abortion services, but public institutions may not refuse to provide needed medical services.
  • Although a citizen may be exempted from acting in a way contrary to religious beliefs (for example fight in a war, participate in the pledge of allegiance, eat particular foods, or take birth control), that is very different from not paying taxes that are required of everyone.

With the rejection of the “Personhood Amendment” in Mississippi and the rejection of Measure 3 in North Dakota, we see proof that Americans have a profound respect for religious freedom as the founders intended it.

Measure 3 as it appeared on the ballot:

This initiated constitutional measure would add a new section to Article I of the North Dakota Constitution stating, “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.”

YES – meant voter approved the measure as stated.

NO – meant voter rejected the measure as stated.