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No, hell has not frozen over and the following excerpt from a story in Upstart Business Journal does not appear to be an April Fools’ joke. Rather, it is the latest sure sign that troubled souls on the American religious right are, blessedly, losing the fight for the hearts and minds of the nation:

“Facing opposition from the world’s largest retailer and his state’s biggest business, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson today backed away from signing a ‘religious freedom’ bill many said would be an open invitation to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Hutchinson, a Republican who had previously said he would sign the bill passed Tuesday by the Arkansas House, instead asked legislators to revisit the bill and make it more like a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. ‘I’ve asked them to recall it and change the language,’ Hutchinson said at a news conference….

‘Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,’ McMillan said in a statement posted on Twitter. ‘It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we’re asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.’

Other states including North Carolina and Georgia had been considering similar bills. But politicians in those states have slowed down the process since the Indiana firestorm, with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, of North Carolina saying, “What is the problem they’re trying to solve?”

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

It’s looking more and more like the the pro-discrimination bills in the North Carolina General Assembly masquerading as “religious freedom” proposals are — thank goodness — going nowhere. This morning, you can add the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal to the list of major news outlets issuing condemnations.

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled: “Don’t follow Indiana”:

A Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been introduced in both the N.C. House and Senate, and our state’s Republican governor says he won’t support it.

We urge the North Carolina sponsors to look at Indiana, listen to McCrory and withdraw their bills before any harm is done here….

Large corporations are making it clear they expect their employees and partners — all of them — to be treated fairly in Indiana. Some already are saying the same about North Carolina. The politicians who claim to be ushering in business-friendly policies should be careful that some of their actions aren’t seen as hostile to 21st century corporations.

Indiana Republicans now say they’ll “clarify” their new law, which they insist has been misinterpreted. Actually, it’s seen very clearly for what it is.

We hope and trust McCrory will veto a similar bill in North Carolina, but it will be shameful enough if such a measure even reaches his desk.

And this is from a Journal editorial entitled “‘Religious freedom’ bills would open door to discrimination”:

“State Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville, a sponsor of the bill, told the Journal’s Arika Herron in an email that ‘…we have an obligation to make sure that North Carolinians’ religious rights are protected.’

But the Constitution already guarantees that. What it most certainly doesn’t guarantee is the right to discriminate against others.

Given our history in the South, we have a healthy fear of any law that might be used to bar members of certain groups from businesses. Blacks rightly won that fight.

Opening the door now to legalized discrimination against any group would take us back toward an uncomfortable and unjust past. As we’ve written before, a separatist society is a greater threat to North Carolina than same-sex marriage ever could be. Inclusion enriches our state, allowing commerce to flow more freely, allowing contributions to society from more quarters and promoting individual freedom.

If our legislature continues on this destructive path, it had best be ready for the backlash.”

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Image: www.thinkprogress.org

The Charlotte Observer was actually quite moderate and restrained in its editorial over the weekend criticizing the latest dying gasp of the nation’s pro-discrimination movement. The editorial — “Indiana shows what not do” — highlighted the so-called “religious freedom” law enacted in Indiana. The law — which was designed by conservatives opposed to LGBT equality — has already set off a firestorm amongst more-forward looking corporate types who are rethinking their involvement with the Hoosier state. Here’s the Observer:

“Given the permissive definition of “religion” in the bills, though, the allowed discrimination would hardly stop with the LGBT community. Even if such cases are only episodic, even one is too many and the state’s image takes a hit.

[Indiana Governor Mike] Pence defended the Indiana law by saying he doesn’t think it legalizes discrimination, and N.C. legislators will say it is simply about freedom of religion. But in practice the bills undeniably open the door to discrimination against almost anyone….

Does North Carolina really want to go down this road? Do we want to sanction discrimination by letting anyone deny service to whomever they please? Do we want to jeopardize conventions, job growth and the ability to recruit?

Arizona was going to last year, but under pressure from the NFL and others, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. If it reaches his desk, Gov. Pat McCrory should do the same here.”

And here’s another reason to be against the offensive, copycat legislation filed in the North Carolina Senate and House: It’s morally wrong, offensive and un-American. As Think Progress reported yesterday, the discrimination has already started in Indiana. And one doesn’t have to be a MENSA member to imagine the myriad forms of discrimination that some troubled souls in our state would readily engage in if given the green light by state government.

After all, it was the same talk about “religious liberty” that was frequently used as an excuse by those who refused to serve people of color and interracial couples back in the last century. Anyone who thinks that ugly beast wouldn’t reemerge is kidding themselves.

The bottom line: Let’s hope state political and business leaders nip this nonsense in the bud ASAP and that North Carolinians can avoid the ignominy of seeing their governor go on national TV to defend discrimination and hate.

Commentary

marriage amendmentYesterday afternoon, members of the public were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Senate Bill 2 before the House Judiciary I Committee. The bill, which would permit magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs, has been hotly contested since it was first introduced in late January.

During the meeting, opponents of the bill stressed the difference between the civil duty of magistrates and the religious freedom of clergy. They also reminded the committee that government officials shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to perform a duty which is part of their job when it deprives the public of a right. However, disagreement between committee members on whether performing civil marriages is the duty of a magistrate or a power given to him provided evidence that many legislators are still missing the point.

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Commentary
Guilford Co. Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Senate Bill 2, the controversial proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to avoid their duty to perform marriages for same-sex couples was whisked through the state Senate’s Judiciary II Committee today as thousands of North Carolinians remained stranded by an unexpected snowstorm. By my watch, the meeting featured all of eight minutes in public comment on what is, by any fair assessment, a proposal of great import and serious constitutional implications.

Of course, the lightning-fast review was no accident. When you’re selling a proposal that’s a gussied up effort to legalize discrimination and “separate but equal” public services, it’s best not to linger in any one place for too long lest people quickly see through the pancake makeup.

Let’s hope that, at some point, public outrage at the proposal (see for instance, today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File) forces lawmakers to apply the brakes to this particular train so that additional rational voices can be heard.

In this vein, a great example would be Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen. here is a letter Thigpen sent to the memberso the Judiciary II Committee via email at 7:40 this morning:

Dear Judiciary II Committee members,

I learned late yesterday SB 2 had been put on the calendar for hearing today. It’s snowing in Guilford County and Schools are closed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend but I wanted to express a number of concerns I have with the bill, specifically regarding the Register of Deeds provisions. They are as follows:

1) A “sincerely held religious objection” is not defined. If a Catholic employee discovers an applicant is applying for a second marriage, can they file a religious objection based on this bill?

2) As a manager, Register of Deeds will be put on notice by their employee(s) regarding their religious objection (which is not defined). There is no due diligence or deliberation regarding this matter. The employee is given power, without question, to state the religious objection and immediately be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to ANY citizen. The employee is then given a six month free pass from performing their duties processing marriage licenses.

This can have a serious impact on our daily operations and undermines our role as managers of our offices. Read More