As we head into the election season, there are many daunting initiatives coming our way in many states. One election that is speeding our way is in North Dakota on June 12th, and one particularly frightening Measure being voted on in the state is the Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment.
Although religious freedom is already thoroughly covered in our United States Constitution, the Catholic Conference and North Dakota Family Alliance has proposed a vague and extreme measure to be added to the state constitution.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, led a petition drive that collected signatures to put the plan before the voters. Also spearheading this measure is the North Dakota Family Alliance, the state’s leading Religious Right group and local affiliate of the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family.
Measure Three states that a person has “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief” and includes “indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”
If this state constitutional amendment were to pass, it could have far reaching and possibly unintended consequences. Last week North Dakotans against Measure Three launched its website and new campaign to fight this harmful measure. On the new website, they give three reasons to vote against Measure 3:
1. Measure Three is not needed. Religious rights and freedom were the foundation of the United States Constitution and is protected by the First Amendment. Measure Three would put individuals’ beliefs above the common good of all North Dakotans.
2. Measure Three would waste resources. It is so poorly written and vague that it will open the door to endless legal problems and litigation, clogging the courts and costing tax payers money.
3. Measure Three would mean unintended consequences. If anyone can claim religious liberty, what is to stop those who will take advantage of such an Amendment to the extreme in matters such as domestic violence if their religion requires a man disciplining his wife? Other potential consequences of this Measure are vast, but could include circumstances such as denying numerous forms of healthcare and services and discriminating against individuals and groups.
Of course, women’s rights advocates including Feminist Majority Foundation worry about the effects of such an Amendment on women and young people. The first services that may be denied to North Dakota women and girls based on “religious liberty” could be reproductive health care and family planning. In a sparsely populated state like North Dakota, where would a student turn if their local pharmacies and health centers refuse to provide birth control or Plan B?
So what can you do?
Feminist Majority Foundation will be working with our student groups in North Dakota to get the word out on campuses. We need all the help we can get to alert voters of the harmful consequences of Measure Three and get them out to vote. If you are from North Dakota or know folks interested in working to defeat Measure Three, please contact me so we can connect you with those working on the ground. If you are not in the state, TELL EVERYONE WHO KNOWS ANYONE WHO KNOWS ANYONE in North Dakota about the Measure, and get them out to vote! We will have more volunteer opportunities and updates as the elections approach, but make sure you are getting the word out! We must stop an amendment that may result in taking away women’s rights.