New North Carolina Law Allows Government Employees To Refuse To Do Their Job

A new North Carolina law allows government employees to decline to perform their jobs by claiming it violates their "religious liberty."

church-state-street-signs

A new law in North Carolina will allow government employees to refuse to do their job by claiming it violates their religious liberty:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A measure allowing some court officials to refuse to perform gay marriage responsibilities because of their religious beliefs became law in North Carolina on Thursday, with the state House voting to override the governor’s veto of the bill.

The Senate had voted to do the same with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto a week ago. Thursday’s House vote was just over the three-fifths majority needed.

The law means some register of deeds workers who assemble licenses and magistrates to solemnize civil marriages can decide to stop performing all marriages if they hold a “sincerely held religious objection.”

McCrory had said no one who takes a government oath should be allowed to avoid performing duties required by that oath.

Before North Carolina, only Utah had passed such a similar exemption, earlier this year.

The law says court officials who disclose a “sincerely held religious objection” must stop performing marriage duties for both gay and heterosexual couples for at least six months. The chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds — both elected officials — would fill in on marriages if needed.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, introduced the bill shortly after rulings by federal judges last October that overturned North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage approved by voters in 2012. Berger responded to several magistrates who resigned when the state’s top court administrator wrote that magistrates who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be punished, terminated or face potential criminal charges.

In his May 28 veto message, the Republican McCrory said that while many North Carolina residents like himself believe marriage is between a man and a woman, “we are a nation and a state of laws.”

“No public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath,” McCrory wrote.

While the Senate overturned McCrory’s veto quickly, House Republicans put off a vote because some supporters of the original bill were absent. Others were on the fence about where they stood, according to Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Most legislative Democrats aligned themselves with gay rights groups that said the bill created a new form of discrimination similar to biases of a generation ago against multiracial marriages. They also said the bill didn’t prevent delays for gay couples getting married if a court official suddenly disclosed a religious objection when a couple approached the office counter of the magistrate or a register, particularly in smaller counties with fewer staff.

McCrory’s decision put him at odds with social conservatives aligned with Republicans. Concerned Women for America accused McCrory of betraying state residents and forcing court officials to violate their consciences. Republicans supporting the law said federal laws provided religious accommodations to government officials, in keeping with the U.S. and state constitutions.

The religious liberty argument here is, of course, patently ridiculous. These people took a job with the state of North Carolina that includes among its job duties performing marriages that are valid under the laws of the state.Since the Supreme Court’s decision to decline to review the ruling of the Fourth Circuit last October, that now includes marriages between same-sex couples. This isn’t a situation where a government employee is being denied the opportunity to practice their religion in some way due to job requirements, it isn’t a situation where they are being required to endorse some other religious faith, this is a situation where some people are claiming that their religious liberty would be infringed if they did the job they applied for in the first place. It’s as if someone who adhered to a religious faith that precluded the use of violence for any reason decided to become a police officer and then said that carrying a gun violated their religious beliefs. Performing marriages is part of the job that these people have, if they can’t fulfill that duty because the thought of two men or two women make them squeamish, then they can find another job.

None of this is new, of course, When New York State legalized same-sex marriage several years ago, a town clerk was sued because she refused to perform same-sex marriage and attempted to pass the job off to a deputy who was only available by appointment every two weeks. When Congress was considering repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, some people on the right were claiming that it would lead to infringements on the religious liberty of military chaplains, something that has not arisen in any documented case since the law was repealed never five years ago. More recently, we’ve seen the argument raised in states such as in Indiana, Arkansas, and Louisiana in the form of efforts to pass laws that would give private business owners the right to claim exemptions to generally applicable laws including, according to many of the sponsors of these bills, exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. The North Carolina law, though, goes a step beyond all of these laws by saying that government employees don’t have to do their jobs if they claim that it would violate their religion. Now, on some level, one can easily see situations where someone’s job duties and their religious beliefs might conflict, but this is not one of them. They are not being asked to attend anyone’s wedding, they are not being asked to condone or bless it. They are being asked to perform a completely clerical duty, and it’s simply absurd to give them a pass for any reason at all. If they don’t like the job, they can go find another one.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    The fools who promulgate these laws never seem to realize that the laws don’t apply just to fundamentalist Protestants, do they?

  2. al-Ameda says:

    The North Carolina law, though, goes a step beyond all of these laws by saying that government employees don’t have to do their jobs if they claim that it would violate their religion. Now, on some level, one can easily see situations where someone’s job duties and their religious beliefs might conflict, but this is not one of them. They are not being asked to attend anyone’s wedding, they are not being asked to condone or bless it. They are being asked to perform a completely clerical duty, and it’s simply absurd to give them a pass for any reason at all. If they don’t like the job, they can go find another one.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this.

    Every time you think the idiocy can’t get much worse – it does.

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    My religion teaches me that only God can judge the actions of man. Therefore, I have a sincere religious objection to employee performance evaluations and disciplinary procedures.

  4. rodney dill says:

    @James P: Better swear off money or coin of any type then…. yep.

  5. Scott says:

    If they don’t like the job, they can go find another one.

    I put pharmacists who don’t want to dispense legal pharmaceuticals in the same category.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I like James P much more now that he’s admitted to worshipping Baal.

    Baal got very bad press thanks to ancient Jewish propaganda. I mean, sure: human sacrifice and whatnot. But it was nowhere near on the scale demanded by Baal’s old drinking buddy, Huitzilopoctli. After all the crap Baal has had to take over the years I’m just glad he has a true fan in James P.

    You have to judge gods by the standard of gods, not men.

  7. Rodney Dill says:

    @michael reynolds: …at least he’s funnier since jamespeetroll showed up… Hmmm… I wonder why?

  8. KM says:

    This is what happens when you think Cake = Speech. These people have absolutely nothing to do with the actual ceremony and are involved in only the most peripheral of ways. Yet somehow, their egos are so large they’ve convinced themselves their menial tasks are of vital importance and participation to the act. Their mere association with something in the vaguest of terms constitutes full and willing participation on a deep, deep spiritual level and wholehearted approval. Their fragile egos and faith therefore must be protected from the winds of the evil world and SSM….. by letting them get paid to not do their job (because otherwise would be discrimination, dontcha know!)

    You’re a damn paper pusher. If God is going to hold touching the paper the icky gays that just got married touched a sin, let’s face it – you’re gonna burn like a tire fire no matter what. You can’t *not* sin with rules like that. Somehow I think God had more dirt on you then this, North Carolina.

  9. Grumpy Realist says:

    Drama queens, all of ’em.

  10. stonetools says:

    If Doug thinks money=speech, can he really object if some North Carolina wingnuts think clerical duties= religious practice? Once you start nonsensical analogies, you can’t really object if someone else decides to play that game.

    Meanwhile, Justice RBG is smiling mirthlessly somewhere…

  11. CS says:

    Hmm, I wonder where they’d stand on religious liberty if a Quaker announced he wouldn’t sign off on Gun Licenses (Pacifists)…

    Or a Buddhist or Hindu food inspector decided to stop authorizing slaughterhouses (objections to the killing of cows)…

    Or a Scientologist started blanket refusing to sign off Psychologists license to practice (objections to psychology as a practice)…

    Plenty of groups have things they object to. Giving everyone a line item veto soon means no-one can do anything.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Well there’s no point me trolling poor old James P if his comments are going to be deleted.

  13. JWH says:

    The North Carolina law, BTW, only extends the exemption to magistrate judges, assistant clerks, and deputy recorders. Under this law, the head of the office is required to ensure that all couples who are entitled to a marriage license under law can get that license. There’s at least some attempt at a compromise here. I say let’s wait and see how this law plays out.

  14. @michael reynolds:

    Not to mention, Baal was pretty kickass on Stargate SG-1 too.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    this is a situation where some people are claiming that their religious liberty would be infringed if they did the job they applied for in the first place. It’s as if someone who adhered to a religious faith that precluded the use of violence for any reason decided to become a police officer and then said that carrying a gun violated their religious beliefs. Performing marriages is part of the job that these people have, if they can’t fulfill that duty because the thought of two men or two women make them squeamish, then they can find another job.

    Ya think? The owners of Hobby Lobby are more than welcome to find a job more to their religious liking as well***. Funny how this point didn’t come up before.

    *** awwwww geeezzzz, regulations changed since you formed your corp. …… Grow up. Regulations change all the time. What doesn’t change is nobody has a religious right to run a business.

  16. Tony W says:

    @KM:

    you’re gonna burn like a tire fire no matter what. You can’t *not* sin with rules like that.

    Indeed. They seem to have no problem signing off on marriages that will end up in divorce. Similarly I bet a good number of those nice christian folks had {gasp} sex before they were married. Where’s the outrage?

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JWH: So straight couples only have to apply once, but gay couples have to file 3 or 4 appeals to get their license?

  18. Paludicola says:

    I’ve always wondered if the tenets of Christianity genuinely require that adherents refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. I always thought that they held it to be a sin, but it doesn’t seem obvious to me that you necessarily should leap from sin to exclusion or discrimination. The whole concept seems dubious on those grounds and it’s all just a pretty thin pretext for some kind of cultural enforcement. I confess, of course, that I wandered away from the Church a fair while ago and was never much interested in the first place, so I might just be ignorant.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Paludicola:

    I’ve always wondered if the tenets of Christianity genuinely require that adherents refuse to provide services to same-sex couples.

    I hope ‘always’ hasn’t been a long time, because this one’s pretty straightforward. Jesus was very clear on “Judge not, lest ye be judged” and “See to the log in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your brother’s” and “Treat people the way you would want to be treated” and “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself”. Even Paul, who had his issues, understood “Everyone is equally a sinner in God’s eyes” and “Even the heathen, without the benefit of The Law, manage to be more holy than the Chosen People”.

    Historically, Christians have been much more culture-driven in their opinions about what is and is not acceptable behavior than they would like to think. Slavery? No problem. Women as property? Sure. I mean, let’s not be radical here…

  20. Rick DeMent says:

    Cool …. no one has to work on Sunday (or pick your sabbith) ever again!

  21. C. Clavin says:

    RBG predicted this…

  22. Mikey says:

    @Paludicola:

    The whole concept seems dubious on those grounds and it’s all just a pretty thin pretext for some kind of cultural enforcement ignorant bigotry.

    You say “tomato,” I say “tomat-oh…”

  23. stonetools says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Ya think? The owners of Hobby Lobby are more than welcome to find a job more to their religious liking as well***. Funny how this point didn’t come up before.

    Well, those guys are rich people who own a business corporation so they shouldn’t have to submit to the law and the Constitution like the rest of us.

  24. george says:

    I think this line of law could create some very interesting new religions.

    Paperwork? Sorry, my religion (handily created for just such an occasion) forbids it. It also requires me to get six hour lunch breaks.

  25. Barry says:

    @CSK: “The fools who promulgate these laws never seem to realize that the laws don’t apply just to fundamentalist Protestants, do they?”

    They assume that when push comes to shove, it will overwhelmingly be right-wing ‘Real Christians’ who benefit.

  26. Barry says:

    @JWH: “Under this law, the head of the office is required to ensure that all couples who are entitled to a marriage license under law can get that license. There’s at least some attempt at a compromise here. I say let’s wait and see how this law plays out.”

    Nope.

  27. bill says:

    i see a new church popping up in the near future- the “church of people who don’t like to work”.
    for every yin, a yang.

  28. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    In Texas, a prosecutor was caught on video driving while falling-down drunk, threatening the police, and trying to bully her way out of charges. She kept her job.

    In DC, a bureaucrat spent almost his entire work day watching porn in his office on his governmment-issue computer. He kept his job.

    This is a case of MAYBE some low-level employees being uncomfortable one one very small aspect of their job that has changed since they took the job.

    I once had a job where we occasionally had to deal with sensitive and potentially offensive assignments. The policy was that an employee had the right to refuse to work on such assignments, but it had to be done. The highest-ranking employee had to do it, if no one else would. I never personally invoked it, but occasionally had things passed to me because I had the reputation of being very blase’ and unfazeable about such things.

    The term used was “reasonable accommodation.” It looks like the law is applying a similar principle here. And the only people I can see opposing it are those who are all Tolerance Uber Alles, which translates to “no tolerance for those we consider intolerant.” There can be no compromise for them. You can’t even THINK differently, because someone might pick up on your thoughts and be offended.

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    In Texas, a prosecutor was caught on video driving while falling-down drunk, threatening the police, and trying to bully her way out of charges. She kept her job.

    She shouldn’t have — but what does that have to do with the topic at hand?

    In DC, a bureaucrat spent almost his entire work day watching porn in his office on his governmment-issue computer. He kept his job.

    He shouldn’t have — but what does that have to do with the topic at hand?

    I’m having flashbacks to my mother telling me “There are starving children in Africa, so eat your peas.” Non sequitur.