North Dakota voters soundly defeat religious liberty amendment

Published: Wednesday, June 13 2012 4:09 p.m. MDT

North Dakota voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment on religious liberties that had become an emotional issue in the weeks before Tuesday's primary election.

According to inforum.com, unofficial results had the measure, supported by the state's Catholic Conference and conservative groups, losing by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin. The Associated Press called the Measure 3 race at approximately 10:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Christopher Dodson, executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference who signed the initiative petition to put the law on the ballot, said in a statement after the polls closed that religious freedom is "a fundamental human right.

“As such, we must be ever-vigilant to ensure that this precious right is always protected and respected. The outcome of the vote on Measure 3 will not distract us from that task.”

The Religious Liberty Restoration amendment would have amended Article I of the North Dakota Constitution by adding: “Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty.” It would have stipulated that the government must have a “compelling interest” and use the “least restrictive means to further that interest” to infringe on someone's right to practice their beliefs.

Proponents of the measure said it was in response to the 1990 Supreme Court decision that has prompted other states to pass laws defining religious liberty. Only Alabama has amended its constitution to address the issue.

But opponents of Measure 3 in North Dakota said Measure 3 was too vague and could have opened the door for people to use religious beliefs as a defense in breaking laws like abuse, domestic violence and discrimination.

Dodson's statement blamed the measure's defeat on "the massive amount of out-of-state money Planned Parenthood poured into the opposition campaign."

The issue was a sleeper compared to other issues debated before the Tuesday's primary — a property tax initiative and changing the logo for the University of North Dakota. But it still proved a flashpoint "with national implications heading into November elections," according to The Christian Science Monitor."

The Forum in Fargo editorialized following Tuesday's vote that the surprise wasn't that Measure 3 went down, but that it was defeated by such a large margin.

"After all, North Dakotans are a church-going, faithful people who value their freedom to worship in their own way."

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