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McCrory budgetThe General Assembly presented the controversial “ag gag” bill to Governor McCrory last Wednesday May 20. The Guv has 10 days to sign or veto the bill (which, by my calculations, means he needs to act by this Saturday). He could also just ignore it — in which case it would become law also.

The bill, as you will recall, would create liability for any person (including employees) who gain access to “nonpublic areas” of employer premises and who then, without authorization, record images or sounds and then use those recordings to breach their “duty of loyalty to the employer.”

Today, the folks over at Public News Service published another worrisome story about the possible impacts of the bill in which a credible argument was advanced that the measure would silence potential whistle blowers in numerous fields beyond agriculture:

“While the bill has made headlines for its potential impact on whistle-blower investigations on factory farms, critics maintain the broad language of the bill could also impact investigations at nursing home and day care facilities.

‘This ag gag bill has sweeping and broad impacts on the safety of really every resident in North Carolina,’ says Matt Dominguez, public policy director for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. ‘If you have a parent in a nursing home or a child in day care, they are going to be put in harm’s way by this bill.'”

Let’s hope that, at a minimum, the Governor fully explains his actions rather than taking the easy way out (as he has done with multiple controversial bills in the past) by simply letting the measure become law without his signature. On such a matter, the public deserves to know where McCrory stands.
Commentary

State lawmakers sent the so-called “Ag gag” bill on to Governor McCrory today. As was explained at some length in this space a few weeks ago, this troubling proposal is targeted at activists who have exposed horrific abuses of animals in agricultural facilities but it raises other concerns that go beyond those circumstances:

“Crafting a statute that protects legitimate property rights when they are competing against the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and the flow of information in a free society is an enormously complex and difficult proposition. Perhaps there is some reasonable point at which the two competing interests are properly balanced, but then again, perhaps such a balancing point really doesn’t exist. Let’s hope, at a minimum, that sponsors of the bill continue to fine tune the language with an eye toward finding that point and that, if they can’t do so, they opt for language that errs on the side of free speech. The current version isn’t there yet.”

Worker advocates at the North Carolina AFL-CIO issued the following statement today in response to the bill’s passage:

“North Carolina shouldn’t treat workers trying to expose criminal activity by their employers like criminals themselves, but House Bill 405 comes close to doing just that. If Governor McCrory signs this misguided bill into law, employers in our state will be able to sue their workers for having exposed criminal activity on the job. Senators even rejected an amendment that would have allowed those workers to use proof their employer broke the law as a defense in court. It seems lawmakers are more interested in protecting unscrupulous employers than the health and safety of our workforce or of the public at-large. HB 405 is as extreme as it is overbroad, and we call on Gov. McCrory to veto this dangerous legislation.”

Let’s hope that, if nothing else, the Governor’s well-known affection for animals leads him to do more than simply rubber stamp this troubling proposal.

Commentary

Religious libertyIf you had any doubts about how ridiculous it is for government officials to be commencing public events with religious prayers, check out the squabble between two members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners as explained in this morning’s Charlotte Observer.

As reporters Tim Funk and David Perlmutt explain, the dispute apparently developed as the result of the Board of Commissioners’ policy of rotating the responsibility for opening meetings with prayer between members. One member, though herself a church goer, did not want to to lead prayers.  This, in turn, led another member to take offense and conclude that the other member was not pulling her weight. The dispute spiraled from there into an embarrassing spat that featured name-calling and all sorts of troubling statements about religion.

The Mecklenburg mess, of course, comes right on the heels of the recent debacle in Lincoln County in which a commissioner said the following about the possibility of his board opening its meetings with anything other than a Christian prayer:

“Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority. The U.S. was founded on Christianity. I don’t believe we need to be bowing to the minorities. The U.S. and the Constitution were founded on Christianity. This is what the majority of people believe in, and it’s what I’m standing up for.”

This kind of nonsense shows precisely why it is impossible for government to get involved in promoting prayer and religion in a useful way. For prayer to have any real meaning, it can’t just be comprised of sanitized and generic platitudes. But once one goes down the road of making it meaningful and specific, it inevitably excludes large swaths of the population with whose views and beliefs it does not comport.

That’s why the best solution (as the American Founding Fathers figured out almost 230 years ago) is to leave prayer to individuals and private institutions and keep public events and institutions religion-free. It’s better for government and better for religion.

Commentary
Religious liberty

Image: www.aclu.org

Notwithstanding the recent efforts of a noisy minority on the American religious right to distort its real and historical meaning, “religious freedom” is a critically important American value that needs to be celebrated and strengthened.

And happily, the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina did just that yesterday when it ruled against the coercive, state-sponsored prayers of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina explains in this news release:

Court Rules Rowan County’s Coercive Prayer Policy Violated Constitution
Federal Court Rules Policy Was Discriminatory in ACLU Lawsuit Filed On Behalf of Three Rowan County Residents Who Were Excluded by Coercive Prayer Practice

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal court today ruled that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners violated the Constitution when they coerced public participation in prayers that overwhelmingly advanced beliefs specific to one religion. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 97 percent of the prayers delivered by commissioners before public meetings were specific to one religion, Christianity.

“When Plaintiffs wish to advocate for local issues in front of the Board, they should not be faced with the choice between staying seated and unobservant, or acquiescing to the prayer practice of the Board,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Beaty of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. “[…]The Board’s practice fails to be nondiscriminatory, entangles government with religion, and over time, establishes a pattern of prayers that tends to advance the Christian faith of the elected Commissioners at the expense of any religious affiliation unrepresented by the majority.” Read More

Commentary
Source: www.aspca.org

Source: www.aspca.org

The North Carolina House passed a bill Wednesday with the misleadingly simple title of “Property Protection Act.” The bill has also come to be referred to as the “ag gag” bill because it is widely understood to be targeted at silencing those who would record and publicize disturbing images or sounds from facilities used to raise and/or slaughter and process animals.

Under the bill, employers can sue any person (including employees) who gain access to “nonpublic areas” of their premises and who then, without authorization, record images or sounds and then use those recordings to breach their “duty of loyalty to the employer.”

Defenders of the bill, which included widely respected progressives like Rep. Rick Glazier, argued forcefully that the language of the bill is drawn in a very narrow fashion so as to protect whistle blowers and others who would expose wrongdoing or illegal activity. And indeed, the proposal includes references (both direct and indirect) to numerous anti-retaliation statutes and includes none of the criminal penalties that were present in previous “ag gag” proposals.

It’s also easy to envision compelling scenarios in which employers would be rightfully aggrieved at the idea of employees secretly recording and posting to the Internet the contents of, say, staff meetings or private strategy sessions.

That said, the bill as written still raises serious and nagging questions about freedom of speech and the public’s right to know important information. For instance, it appears that under the terms of the bill, an employee who becomes aware of inhumane or unsanitary (but not necessarily illegal) food preparation practices could be sued, silenced and ordered to pay damages if she recorded a video of such practices on her phone and publicized the recording. Similarly, an office worker who, for instance, records and publicizes the fact that his boss keeps a noose in his office along with some racist posters and literature would appear to be potentially liable for damages. Read More