Vote No on North Dakota’s Measure Three
A misleading and alarming amendment endangering religious liberty in North Dakota will be on the ballot on June 12. On the surface, Measure Three claims to protect freedom of religion by preventing the state from “burdening” the religious liberty of a person or religious organization. But in practice it would allow anyone on the basis of religious tenet to claim exemptions from laws such as those governing child abuse, discrimination and domestic violence. Measure 3 opens the door for endless litigation at the taxpayer’s expense and the possibility of health care workers refusing to provide any essential services because of religious beliefs (North Dakota already has a law allowing doctors and nurses to choose not to provide abortion services based on religious beliefs).
Measure Three is being talked about as an attempt to implement a state version of a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), but there are key differences between the two. Moreover, although other states have successfully implemented constitutional amendments and legislation based on RFRA, none are as far reaching as North Dakota’s Measure Three.
In 1993, members of Congress from both parties came together to pass RFRA (it passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate by a 97-3 margin). The purpose of RFRA is to ensure that the government cannot interfere with a citizen’s ability to freely practice his or her religion unless there is a “compelling interest” by the government for doing so. A Supreme Court challenge to RFRA in 1997 left the law applicable only to federal actions, not state actions. Members of Congress and the advocacy community were unsuccessful in attempts to pass new legislation that would restore the “compelling interest test” to state actions.
The Reform Movement was deeply involved in the bipartisan passage of RFRA and has continued to be engaged on this issue. Our vigorous support of religious liberty and the ability to worship freely is not dictated by biblical command, but rather by our history as a religious minority. When the Supreme Court struck down parts of RFRA in 1997, Director of the Religious Action Center Rabbi David Saperstein said the decision “will go down in history with Dred Scott and Korematsu, among the worst mistakes this Court has ever made. Just as in Dred Scott, the Court resorted to a focus on narrow legalisms, allowing a preoccupation with extraneous issues to blind it to the real issue in the case — are Americans going to remain free to practice their religion protected from undue government interference?”
On June 12, North Dakotans will head to the polls and vote on Measure Three. We have joined forces with North Dakotans Against Measure Three to help educate voters about this dangerous ballot initiative and urge voters to reject it. While religious liberty is a core belief of our movement and faith, we do not support laws or amendments that would allow people to claim the right to violate numerous laws meant to protect us all.