GOP speaker push forreligious freedom law

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG —The executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition told Scotland County Republicans that the state needs a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect public opposition to gay marriage and laws favoring homosexuals.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal act unconstitutional with respect to individual states. Since then, 21 states have adopted their own legislation to preserve religious freedom. According to Tami Fitzgerald, one of the primary goals of the N.C. Values Coalition is to see North Carolina added to that list. Fitzgerald was the featured speaker at Monday’s meeting of Scotland County’s Republican Party.

“If the federal government or the state government burdened your freedom of religion up until 1990, they had to meet a very high standard to do that,” said Fitzgerald, who added that such an act would provide a legal defense in cases where a defendant acted on the belief that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Fitzgerald also advised local Republicans to be watchful for local ordinances that prevent renting or selling real estate based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Earlier this year, Greensboro became the first in the state to alter its housing non-discrimination policies to include gender identity and sexuality.

“One of the reasons that we don’t have many cases in North Carolina of religious freedom being violated is that we don’t have a statewide non-discrimination law that protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Fitzgerald said.

Related legislation chalked up as a victory by the coalition was S.B. 2, which permits magistrates and employees of county registers of deeds to recuse themselves from granting marriage licenses, on religious grounds, to all couples seeking one.

“This magistrate recusal bill allows people who want to get married to get married, but also allows magistrates to keep their jobs and not perform same-sex marriages and violate their faith, so we’re very thankful that bill passed,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a good balance between getting married and religious freedom.”

Fitzgerald also advised that individual churches, to solidify their legal standing regarding potential discrimination litigation, adopt formal policies defining who they do and do not serve.

“If your church hasn’t already, you need a statement of faith on marriage, gender, and sexuality, you need a religious employment criteria for every employee in your church, you need a church facility-use policy that defines who can use the facilities and restricts the facility’s use to those that are consistent with your beliefs, and then you need a formal membership policy.”

The coalition also supported H.B. 465, known as the Women and Children’s Protection Act. That legislation prolonged the waiting period for women seeking an abortion, implemented annual clinic inspections, increased the qualifications for physicians to perform abortions, and restricts abortions post-20 weeks of gestation to those with medical emergencies.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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