North Carolina legislative bill calls for religious freedom

An N.C. bill currently stalled in committee is similar to the Arizona religious rights bill that sparked a nationwide outcry and debate about religious freedom and LGBT rights just last week.

The N.C. Religious Freedom Restoration Act would aim to protect individuals from any state restrictions on religious freedom.

The Arizona bill gave the right for business owners to deny service based on religious principles and was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last week.

Mitch Kokai, spokesman for the John Locke Foundation, a right-leaning think tank in Raleigh, said the bill was filed in the N.C. House of Representatives last year, but did not pass either legislative chamber.

“If it didn’t get through either committee, it’s not likely to even be considered in short session this year,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that people who support this idea couldn’t come back in the next General Assembly in 2015 and reintroduce the legislation or something like it.”

Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for N.C. Policy Watch, also said the bill likely wouldn’t pass — but he said there are strong conservative forces in the state that might advocate for such a bill.

“It speaks to the reality of North Carolina politics that a long list of very Republican legislators were happy to put their name on the bill,” he said. “So there’s probably a lot of people that would be happy to vote for it.”

Fourteen Republican representatives sponsored the bill. None were immediately available for comment.

Schofield said the national debate about the Arizona bill could affect the N.C. bill’s future.

He said Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis would want nothing to do with such a politically charged bill.

“If this were to pass, I think it would send a terrible message and would undoubtedly give rise to litigation and a constitutional challenge and would be terrible publicity for the state of North Carolina, which has already had its fair share,” he said.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality N.C., said he does not expect the legislature to further consider the bill.

“I really believe that our legislature and the people of N.C. are going to be fair-minded on this,” he said. “I think what you’ve seen as these pieces of legislation have been moved across the country is that the support either in legislatures or in broader populations of the state is really not there.”

Sgro said after the controversy in Arizona, similar bills introduced across the country are likely to be met with opposition.

“The lesson learned here is that the business community, whether it’s large or small, tourism-based or service-based, is really opposed to this kind of measure,” he said. “I think that it’s dead on arrival in a state like North Carolina.”

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