Lazy clerks and religious bigots in North Carolina got some great news this week.
On the other hand, the Republican legislature handed a rather raw deal to gay couples, those who support equality and actual freedom of religion, and taxpayers who prefer that government officials do the jobs they’re paid to do.
On Thursday, the North Carolina House, following the lead of the Senate, voted to override Governor Pat McCrory‘s veto of the “religious freedom” bill, SB 2, that allows magistrates to refuse to officiate weddings if they object on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs.
Essentially, the faith-based personal opinions of public officials in North Carolina now count as legal excuses to not do their jobs.
Zack Ford of Think Progress explains:
The law came about because of the arrival of legal same-sex marriage in North Carolina last fall. Several magistrates resigned after being warned that their oath of office stipulated they officiate for any couple with a valid marriage license. Two of these former magistrates have filed suit against the state, arguing that they resigned under duress. They claim that they should not be forced to choose between their job and their religious beliefs, even if their beliefs prohibit them from performing their job in a way that serves all citizens.
The bill elevates the personal beliefs of government employees over the right of same-sex couples to be treated equally by the state. This is essentially granting government officials carte blanche to refuse to do their jobs for any number of reasons — as long as those excuses are religious in nature. While the focus has rightfully been on gay and lesbian couples, it could theoretically also affect atheist couples.
The fact that this special privilege is to afforded employees of the state at the cost of the citizens is particularly troubling. As Todd Stiefel (of the Steifel Freethought Foundation) noted in an unpublished letter to the editor of a local newspaper,
The U.S. Constitution codifies protections for citizens from their government, from the people in government who may abuse their power. It sets forth liberties for citizens and restrictions upon the government. When a citizen chooses to represent the state, when on the job, they exchange the liberties of the citizen for the restrictions on the government. They move from needing to be protected by the Constitution to the Constitution providing restrictions to protect citizens from them.
Unfortunately, the North Carolina legislature didn’t see it that way.
That’s not religious freedom. That is extraordinary religious privilege. And the citizens of the state are now worse off due to the actions of their elected officials.