SECOND NEXUS PERSPECTIVES
A small, frail woman in her early eighties walks into a post office on Cape Hatteras Island, North Carolina. She steps up to the counter with a few packages. “I’d like to mail these, please.”
“And what are we mailing today?”
“Hanukkah gifts. Regular mail is fine.”
The clerk glances at the parcels. “Ginsburg, eh? I’m sorry, ma’am. I can’t help you.” He looks past her and says, “Next!”
Ms. Ginsburg blinks. “I don’t understand. Are they wrapped incorrectly?”
“The wrapping is fine. But you’re Jewish. I’m Christian. Your people killed our Lord and Savior. Mailing these would violate my sincerely held religious beliefs.”
This is an unlikely scenario, of course. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would probably not spend Hanukkah in North Carolina. More relevant, as “Notorious RBG” would surely have pointed out, is the fact that post office clerks are employees of the federal government, and are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, among other “nonmerit factors.”
But what about state employees?
How the right to discriminate became law in North Carolina
On June 11, the North Carolina legislature passed Senate Bill 2. The law allows public officials whose duties relate to marriages — magistrates and registers of deeds — to recuse themselves from performing specific marriage ceremonies or issuing marriage licenses to certain couples if they declare a “sincerely held religious objection” to those marriages. Under SB 2, state officials can refuse to preside at any lawful marriages, including those of interracial, interfaith or same-sex couples.
A little history: In 2012, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. A federal judge struck it down in 2014 after a group of clergy members filed suit, arguing that their inability to perform same-sex marriages was an unconstitutional abridgment of their religious freedom.
When the ban was lifted, at least six magistrates left longtime jobs, some with salaries above $50,000, to avoid performing same-sex marriages. In response, North Carolina State Senate leader Phil Berger crafted SB 2 to “protect” state officials. He said, “Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean that they give up their First Amendment rights.”
Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, was quick to condemn the proposed bill. “State officials don’t get to pick and choose what laws they need to follow.
They can’t turn people away just because of who they are and who they love.” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, agreed. “That’s not religious freedom. That’s discrimination.”
Governor Pat McCrory vetoed SB 2. He issued a statement declaring, “Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of
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