Writers of Measure 3 on the 2012 primary ballot wish to add language to the state constitution with protections so "government may not burden a person's or religious organization's religious liberty." The standard it would apply for individuals is "a sincerely-held religious belief," and for the government a "substantial compelling interest."
Opponents of the measure have not made a clear case against adopting additional protections for religious beliefs or practices. Nor have proponents made a compelling argument for changing the North Dakota Constitution by inserting new language to protect religion from government. This being the case, the Tribune suggests a no vote for Measure 3 on the June 12 primary ballot.
North Dakotans should rely on their existing state and national constitutions for their religious liberty.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." — First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Founding Fathers made their position clear: There would be no national religion, nor could Congress tell people how to practice whatever religion they chose. The North Dakota Constitution evokes "Almighty God for the blessing of civil and religious liberty ..." and is followed by a commitment to the "free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship."
The provisions for "religious liberty" in the U.S. Constitution and North Dakota Constitution are unequivocal. The addition of language promoted by Measure 3 would not in principle add or strengthen religious freedom in this state. The compelling interest language could, in some cases, exempt churches and orders from laws that the general public is required to follow. It would be a murky road ahead under the proposed constitutional amendment.
Religious freedom was wired into American DNA as a number of colonies were established by singular Christian denominations and by colonists who had fled England's religious persecution. Given those strongly held colonial roots in different denominations, the motivation becomes clear for Thomas Jefferson’s separation of church and state.
The writing of the religious liberty provisions of the North Dakota Constitution carries that belief in religious freedom forward.
North Dakotans are, generally, comfortable with Christian practice. Rarely do you hear of protests about prayer before a public meeting; the Legislature, when in session, opens the day with prayer. School Christmas programs here have become more sensitive to separation of church and state issues, but the Christian spirit hasn’t gone out of what is clearly a religious holiday.
The issue between church and state that generated Measure 3 comes from elsewhere. And although many North Dakotans of different faiths are uncomfortable with federal mandating of contraception and reproductive rights into health insurance programs, the vehicle for resolving those issues isn't the state's constitution.
In North Dakota, people do not believe government should have a right to tell people how to conduct their personal lives. The same goes for churches. North Dakotans firmly believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees their religious freedom.
North Dakotans should reject Measure 3.