Since January, religious freedom issues have been at the forefront of public discussion. In North Dakota, voters are preparing to head to the polls next week to vote on a controversial provision referred to as the "Religious Liberty Restoration Amendment" or "Measure 3." The proposal, which would amend the state's constitution to protect conscientious objectors, is being heralded by proponents who claim it will increase and protect religious freedom. Others, though, fear potential calamity that they believe could result from its passage.
Supporters like Tom Frier of the North Dakota Family Alliance see the proposal as an attempt to right judicial and legislative wrongs. His group has led the effort to see the amendment make its way onto the ballot.
"What this amendment is attempting to do is to restore that level of protection to what it was pre-1990," Freier said. "This measure would really put in place the protection for North Dakota that would make sure that people are protected, and religious organizations are protected, when and if they do need that protection."
Here's a video showcasing support for the proposal:
But those opposed to the measure have a different view. Tim Hathaway, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota, fears that the measure would allow families to hide behind religion in child-abuse cases.
"We are urging a 'no' vote on Measure 3, because it will seriously undercut protection for children in our state by opening the door for people to claim religious freedom as a justification for maltreatment," he claims.
Tom Fiebiger of North Dakotans Against Measure 3, too, says that the amendment goes to far and would create a plethora of problems and lawsuits.
"This just requires a burden and that could mean a host of different things," he believes. "It could mean a city bus driver that doesn't want to take someone to church because they disagree with their religious beliefs."
Here's a video railing against Measure 3 as unnecessary and dangerous:
Others echo these sentiments, claiming that it's possible for the regulation to allow other forms of discrimination against women and other groups -- all based on the premise of religious liberty. Despite these claims, the measure's words, it seems, does make it clear that there are exceptions to the rule. The full text reads:
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.
Based on these sentiments, supporters of the measure like Christopher Dodson of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, say that objections are blown out of proportion.
"The measure itself says that it doesn't affect those acts which the state has a compelling interest in preventing," Dodson said. "And it's somewhat irresponsible to even imply that the state doesn't have an interest in protecting children, women and vulnerable persons."
The voters will make their voices heard on Measure 3, among other proposals, on June 12. So far, polls seem to show major division among North Dakota residents.