By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
February 27, 2015
RALEIGH – After passing scrutiny by the Senate Judiciary II Committee on Tuesday, legislation that protects the religious freedoms of magistrates and register of deeds was sent to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday. The measure passed by a 32-16 margin.
Senate Bill 2 – Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies is designed to allow magistrates and register of deeds to recuse themselves from performing wedding ceremonies, if they hold a sincerely held religious objection.
The necessity of the legislation follows the decision of some magistrates in the state who resigned after an Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) directive instructed they must perform same-sex marriages. The directive threatened refusal was grounds for “suspension or removal from office…as well as, potential criminal charges.”
Sen. Buck Newton (R-Nash), who presented the bill in both committee and on the Senate floor, argued religious freedom was paramount to North Carolina and America’s founding. He said the state had been thrown “a curve ball” by federal judges who had ruled North Carolina’s marriage protection amendment as unconstitutional. Newton unashamedly declared his religious objection to same-sex marriage, arguing federal judges had acted in ways that indicated they thought they knew better than the people of North Carolina about marriage, and, more importantly, suggested they believed they were “smarter than God.” Nevertheless, Newton contended the order of the court had to be followed and it was necessary to strike “a right balance” between compliance and accommodating people’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
“People should not have to choose between their jobs and their faith,” said Newton.
Chris Scgro, executive director of Equality NC, a state homosexual advocacy organization, told the Judiciary II Committee the measure was not about religious freedom, but “a direct attack on the LGBT community.” He acknowledged religious liberty was a basic American value, but so were fairness and equality under the law. Sarah Preston of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made similar arguments before the committee and added that the proposed legislation would allow public officials to impose their religious views on others.
During the two hour long debate on the Senate floor, Senate Democrats, generally assailed SB 2, as discriminatory, distasteful, offensive, prejudiced, on the wrong side of history, inefficient, inhibitive of job attraction, and unconstitutional.
Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) said the bill would keep companies like Apple Computers, with its current gay CEO, from seriously considering doing business with a state like North Carolina. Furthermore, he said the measure was embarrassing, putting North Carolina “in league with Alabama as the states that refuse to respect the Constitution.”
But Senate Republicans fired back, saying the legislation would not prevent any same-sex couples from securing a marriage. Weddings would have to be offered 10 hours a week and on three business days for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Nor did it discriminate because magistrates and register of deeds that might use the exemption must recuse themselves from performance of any marriages, not simply same-gender unions.
Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Franklin) argued that the contention the legislation would negatively impact jobs and turn-away major companies from doing business with North Carolina was essentially a straw man. He said Apple Computers, under its gay CEO, has its computers made in China and does business with a country that is hostile to same-sex marriage. Moreover, he contended the state of Alabama has three auto manufacturers, something to which the Tar Heel state aspires.
Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) made the same argument on the Senate floor that he had made during the bill’s consideration in committee. “To value efficiency and jobs more than First Amendment rights, is reprehensible,” said Cook.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) sounded much like a preacher as he demonstrably claimed SB 2 was necessary because people of faith were being driven out of public life. He compared requiring magistrates to perform same-sex marriages or lose their jobs to the Old Testament Israelites being required to bow down to Baal.
Newton reiterated the proposed legislation was necessary because under the current directive by the AOC, magistrates and register of deeds were told if performing same-sex ceremonies was a violation of their conscience, then it was just their tough luck. “Bend your knee. Comply or we will prosecute. Whose next to be told to stand forward and kiss the ring” asked Newton?
More than one Democrat complained they had been looking forward to working on issues like jobs and education this session. “Instead, the first bill introduced to this chamber is a socially divisive bill that will surely be challenged in court,” said Sen. Jane Smith, (D-Robeson) during the floor debate. But Senate President Pro-Tempore, Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the bill’s primary sponsor, responded that First Amendment rights should always be a top priority.
“If we’re not about holding up the rights guaranteed by our constitution in this body, then all the other stuff eventually is not worth very much” said Berger. “We’re not saying that the First Amendment outweighs any other right that might exist. We’re saying there should be an accommodation where there is a conflict. This bill provides a reasonable accommodation,” he added.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said that he had taken the time to express appreciation to key Senate members for the legislation. “The bill will likely be challenged in court,” he said. “But it is tightly written and will meet constitutional muster.”
“My impression,” said Dr. Creech “is that the opponents of this bill simply pay lip service to our religious rights.”
“They don’t seem to realize the full import of the ‘free exercise clause’ of our cherished First Amendment. The freedom to practice one’s religion doesn’t simply mean one can believe whatever religious tenant he wishes in the privacy of his own home or in the privacy of his religious organization’s established place of worship. Instead it means one can practice freely the teachings of their faith in public, in the public square, without the authorization or endorsement of the state, or fear of its reprisal.
“Our tradition has always been not to interfere with the practice of religion, and, if there is a law that, perhaps, is deemed necessary to interfere, then the state must use the least restrictive means possible for achieving a compelling state interest, and, if an exemption would avoid the religious interference, then it should be granted.
“That’s exactly what this bill is about and it’s very important now that same-sex marriage is legal and the numerous scenarios it creates for infringements on religious liberty,” said Dr. Creech.
The measure now moves to the House for consideration.
To see how your lawmaker voted on SB 2, click here