June 13, 2012 — Close to two-thirds of North Dakota voters on Tuesday opposed a ballot initiative (Measure 3) that would have made it harder for the government to pass laws and regulations that indirectly impact religious practices, the Bismarck Tribune reports. With 70% of precincts reporting, 64.5% of voters rejected the measure, while 35.4% supported it, according to the Tribune (Smith, Bismarck Tribune, 6/12).
The measure would have amended the state constitution to say that government "may not burden a person's or religious organization's religious liberty." It also stated, "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" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/12).
Proponents of the measure said it was needed to strengthen North Dakotans' rights to exercise their religious beliefs. Opponents -- including North Dakotans Against Measure Three -- warned that the initiative's vague wording would have permitted religious entities to not abide by laws prohibiting things such as discrimination and abuse.
If the measure had passed, North Dakota would have joined one other state with a similar constitutional amendment, as well as 11 other states that have enacted similar statutes, according to the Tribune (Bismarck Tribune, 6/12).
Tom Fiebiger -- an attorney and chair of North Dakotans Against Measure Three -- said in a statement, "We are grateful North Dakotans did the right thing and rejected this unnecessary and potentially dangerous Measure."
Planned Parenthood also released a statement after the initiative's defeat. The group commended voters for "a strong and clear no vote" affirming "that religious liberty is securely protected in the U.S. Constitution."
Christopher Dodson -- executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which supported the measure -- said in a statement that the outcome would not distract from efforts to strengthen religious protections in the state (Lamb, Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6/12).