North Dakota voters rejected a controversial measure yesterday that would have added an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting the government from putting a “burden [on] a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty.” The amendment was defeated by approximately two-thirds, 64 percent to 36 percent.
Known as the Religious Liberty Restoration amendment, supporters of Measure 3 argued it would prevent attacks on religious freedom. The North Dakota Family Alliance, headed by Tom Freier, led the push to put the measure on the ballot.
“This measure would really put in place the protection for North Dakota that would make sure the people are protected, and religious organizations are protected, when and if they do need that protection,” Freier told NPR last week.
But critics argued the amendment could cause unintended problems, included providing a curtain of protection for parents who abuse their children or employers who discriminate based on differences in morals and religious beliefs. Tom Fiebiger, a labor lawyer in Fargo and a former Democratic state senator, told the Christian Science Monitor the measure was too vague.
“On first blush, it looks great, but you pull back the curtain, and you see all the problems,” Fiebiger told the Monitor. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”
But Christopher Dodson, head of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, countered those arguments. “The measure itself says that it doesn’t affect those acts which the state has a compelling interest in preventing,” he told NPR. “And it’s somewhat irresponsible to even imply that the state doesn’t have an interest in protecting children, women and vulnerable persons.”
The fight over the amendment attracted a lot of outside attention—and outside funds. According to CitizenLink, the group North Dakotans Against Measure 3 raised more than $1 million to fight the measure, with the vast majority of funds coming from out-of-state groups. (CitizenLink said its numbers came from the North Dakota Secretary of State’s site, which only lists gifts greater than $200.) In contrast, Freier told CitizenLink that most of the $150,000 raised in support of the measure came from state residents.
In its report, the Christian Science Monitor noted that while many states have created some sort of religious exemption in health care since the new federal laws were enacted, only Alabama has adopted a constitutional amendment like Measure 3. However, a similar bill is currently sitting in committee in the Kentucky state senate, and a religious freedom amendment was withdrawn from the Colorado ballot last month.