Three Lessons on Religious Freedom from North Dakota

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.

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  • waterjoe

    First, the USCCB did not take a position on North Dakota’s Measure 3 and the link you provide does not support the contrary.  Rarely, in fact, does the USCCB take a position on a state measure.


    Second, do you have any proof that the voters rejected the measure for those three reasons? There were no exit polls and debate about the measure rarely, if ever, touched upon the reasons you gave.    The first and third reasons you give are not even applicable.  Courts have repeatedly found that the state has a compelling interest in preventing racial and sexual discrimination and collecting taxes.  The second example may be relevant to the measure but is unlikely to be a reason for its defeat since North Dakota law does not require health care providers to provide all services.  Emergency care might be required but that would not be at issue since there is a compelling state interest in providing emergency care and the measure would not have negated that law.

  • lon-newman

    The North Dakota Catholic Conference was listed as supporting the measure not the USCCB, so you’re right . . . here’s the link to the ballot supporters and I was incorrect.,_Measure_3_%28June_2012%29


    I also agree that the reasons voters had for rejecting the measure are not verified by research . . . I based my assertion on opinion pieces that I read during the campaign and intended to invite the readers to analyze the arguments. I would have better stated it: “there are three strong reasons voters were correct to reject it.”