North Dakota voters rejected Measure 3, which its proponents said was necessary in strengthening protections for those who choose to exercise their deeply-held religious beliefs.

With 70 percent of precincts reporting, voters said no to Measure 3 by a 64.5 percent to 35.4 percent margin. The Associated Press called the Measure 3 race at approximately 10:15 p.m.

The Rev. Tim Johnson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck said he was pleased by the no vote.

“I was gratified by it, I have to admit,”Johnson said.

The language of Measure 3 stated that a person has the right to act or to refuse to act in a manner due to a deeply-held religious belief. It would then be up to the government to prove that it has a compelling government interest in infringing on one’s right to act or not act. The measure’s proponents said that it was needed in order to strengthen people’s religious liberty.

North Dakotans Against Measure Three, the main group opposed to Measure 3, had argued that the wording of Measure 3 was vague. One example of vague language noted by opponents was that the government must prove it has a “compelling government interest” in infringing on a person’s religious actions. Another example was over government having to use the “least restrictive means” to further its interest.

Opponents said Measure 3 could’ve opened the door for people to use religious beliefs as a defense in breaking laws protecting against abuse, domestic violence and discrimination. Measure 3 proponents consistently denied this claim, saying that other states with similar laws in place haven’t had such issues.

Christopher Dodson with the North Dakota Catholic Conference said he was disappointed by Measure 3’s rejection by voters. Dodson said in a statement that efforts will continue to strengthen religious protections for North Dakotans.

“We will not rest until religious freedom in North Dakota is protected in the law as a fundamental human right,” Dodson said.

If Measure 3 had passed, North Dakota would’ve joined 12 states that already have passed religious liberty laws: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Alabama is the lone state to have added a law to its state constitution.

Johnson said there was a impassioned debate by those on both sides of the issue. He said his hope is that the relationship between those in groups on both sides of Measure 3 wasn’t negatively impacted.

“Hopefully we can work to improve that relationship moving forward,” Johnson said.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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