FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, June 12, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Voters in North Dakota head to the polls today to vote on a new constitutional amendment to guarantee that state courts observe the highest standards of religious liberty – and its chief opponent is Planned Parenthood.
Measure 3 would require the state to have a “compelling interest” before passing a law that would force someone to violate his religious beliefs, and even then it must apply the least restrictive means of accomplishing that interest.
This standard, known as “strict scrutiny,” had been the usual legal criterion for First Amendment cases until the 1990 Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith, which held that the government only needs to have a “rational basis” to burden religious observance. A law would only be deemed unconstitutional if it intended to discriminate against a religious custom or practice.
Measure 3 would instruct North Dakota courts to judge religious freedom cases according to a higher standard, known as “strict scrutiny.”
But why is Planned Parenthood so concerned about a First Amendment question? “Measure 3 stands in their way,” wrote Archbishop-designate Samuel Aquila and Bishop David Kagan in a joint letter announcing the North Dakota Catholic Conference’s strong support for the amendment. “[T]he low level of protection for religious freedom in North Dakota is the door for anti-life and anti-family forces to impose their ways on North Dakotans.”
The bishops tied the measure in to the national debate about the Obama administration’s birth control mandate, which requires even religious institutions to pay for birth control, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations for their employees. That mandate was also strongly supported by Planned Parenthood.
The proposition is opposed by North Dakotans Against Measure 3. According to CitizenLink, the North Dakota Secretary of State revealed that the organization has collected money from only three parties: The Planned Parenthood MN ND SD Action Fund and a pro-abortion mother and daughter from California.
The ACLU also opposes the proposition.
Local media report that Planned Parenthood provided $650,000 of the $700,000 campaign opposing religious liberty in North Dakota.
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“No matter how many hundreds of thousands of dollars out-of-state organizations like Planned Parenthood would attempt to interject, I’m very hopeful North Dakotans will not be bought,” said Tom Freier of the North Dakota Family Alliance.
The measure’s proponents have raised only $103,200, including $20,000 from the Catholic Diocese of Fargo and another $20,000 from CitizenLink, a project of Focus on the Family.
They also fight an uphill battle in the national media to position their message.
An example of the rhetoric being employed by opponents of the measures comes from bloggers Ian Millhiser and Angela Guo of Think Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, who warn the initiative “could authorize thousands of North Dakotans to outright ignore everything from traffic lights to medical access law.”
“A person who is running late to church could claim it is illegal to make them obey traffic lights,” they claim.
Others warn child abusers and polygamists will hide their crimes behind a veil of religious belief. One claimed it would legalize Islamic Shari’a law.
But supporters say these objections are hyperbole. “Measure Three is needed, safe, and well-tested,” the bishops wrote. “It is based on the laws of at least 27 other states and the federal government.”
Congress passed the Religious Liberty Restoration Act, which applies the strict scrutiny standard to the federal government, in 1993.
The “Yes on Measure Three” website points out that the government can still pass laws where it has a “compelling interest” to act.
Christopher Dodson of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, told NPR, “It’s somewhat irresponsible to even imply that the state doesn’t have an interest in protecting children, women, and vulnerable persons.”
State polls close no later than 9 p.m.