(NPR) A North Dakota ‘religious liberty’ measure sparks debate

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Next week, North Dakota voters will decide whether to add an amendment to the state's constitution that supporters say will guarantee religious freedom. But the ballot measure has prompted debate over precisely what it safeguards; opponents argue that it's a solution in search of a problem and worry about its consequences.

Measure 3 is worded this way: "Government may not burden a person's or religious organization's religious liberty." Its supporters call it the Religious Liberty Restoration amendment; they say it's needed because of a 22-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision they believe has put limits on religious freedom.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralState Government

5 Comments
Posted June 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Br. Michael wrote:

Liberals and like minded totalitarians with hate this.  I support it with one amendment:  change “may” to “shall”.

June 9, 5:31 pm | [comment link]
2. NoVA Scout wrote:

It would be interesting to know what happened in North Dakota that made them think they needed this.  The story offers no clue other than a vague reference to an unspecified US Supreme Court case with more than two decades age on it.  Generally speaking, the First Amendment works pretty well.  I assume that these folks feel that it has failed them in some sense.

June 9, 7:47 pm | [comment link]
3. NewTrollObserver wrote:

The 22-year-old SCOTUS case referred to in the story is, of course, Employment Division v. Smith; the majority decision was delivered by Scalia. Smith was a Native American who used peyote as part of his religious practice in The Native American Church; he was fired for using peyote, which was illegal in Oregon. Scalia argued that religious practices were not exempt from laws applicable to all citizens. Thus, laws illegalizing the use of peyote applied to all such use, whether religious or not. The state did not have to prove that it had a compelling interest in order to prohibit peyote’s religious use.

In response, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but the Act only applies at the federal level, not the state or local level. Many states have passed their own version of the RFRA in response.

June 10, 12:30 am | [comment link]
4. NoVA Scout wrote:

Not being able to use peyote in certain native american religious rituals is probably analogous to a governmental prohibition on communion wine.  However, the breadth of the statute seems like it would invite a great deal of controversy over things like the application of zoning or traffic control regulations to the building of churches and mosques, as well as a number of other areas where religious organizations have to interact with the secular world.

June 10, 8:40 am | [comment link]
5. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

Well, I don’t know what to make of this. This is the first I have heard of it, which is saying something as I live in South Dakota. I do not have a major issue with the first part of it because it clearly delineates that this burden does not affect cases where the state has a “compelling interest.”

The final sentence is what raises my eyebrows. It includes this odd definition of burden to include “indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” That seems extremely vague and peculiarly broad to me. I am not exactly sure to what that is referring. I can make some guesses, but undefined “indirect burdens” is a Pandora’s box in my opinion.

June 10, 4:09 pm | [comment link]
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