Mississippi, NC Protecting Rights

COMMENTARY Religious Liberty

Mississippi, NC Protecting Rights

Apr 11th, 2016 3 min read
Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., researches and writes about marriage, bioethics, religious liberty and political philosophy.

Finally, after two years of governors caving to corporate bullies, two governors have stood strong to protect the common good.

North Carolina’s Pat McCrory has signed a law that protects privacy and safety in public school bathrooms. And Mississippi’s Phil Bryant has protected religious freedom in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage.

Both laws are being misrepresented by those who oppose them. Here’s what they actually do.

The North Carolina law arose after the Charlotte City Council passed a bill requiring schools and businesses to grant people access to any restroom, regardless of sex. To protect privacy and safety, the North Carolina law says that access to government-run bathrooms, lockers and showers will be determined primarily by biological sex. It leaves private schools, restaurants, stores and businesses free to establish whatever bathroom policies they think best.

Even in government-run facilities, North Carolina makes accommodations. The governor’s office explains: “Anyone who has undergone a sex change can change their sex on their birth certificate.” And the law allows government buildings to make further accommodations through the use of single-occupancy bathrooms.

The law strikes a reasonable compromise. It prevents biological males who identify as females from using women’s and girls’ private facilities in public schools and government offices, but it also allows local school officials and office managers to make reasonable accommodations for such students and employees.

And it leaves private organizations free from government interference.

That’s the main point of the Mississippi law as well: protecting nongovernmental organizations from state coercion.

It says that the state government will never penalize someone because they believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife, that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, or that our sex is based on our biology.

It doesn’t say anyone has to believe these things; it just says that if someone does believe them, the government can’t discriminate against them.

So the law takes nothing away from anyone; it simply protects pluralism.

The Mississippi law is based on the principle of protecting minority rights after major social change. In other states where marriage had been redefined, the government has penalized citizens and religious organizations who believe that marriage is a union of husband and wife. Bakers and florists have been fined, adoption agencies shuttered.

Mississippi legislators acted to make sure none of this ever happens in their state. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, they protected their civil liberties.

It’s what Americans did after Roe v. Wade, too. Congress and the states passed a variety of laws that protect pro-life conscience.

In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court invented a right to an abortion. But after Roe, legislatures made clear that government cannot require a pro-life doctor or nurse to perform an abortion – that they, too, had rights.

The same is true after the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage. Government has to treat two people of the same sex as married, but private schools, charities, businesses and individuals do not have to abandon their beliefs.

Both the North Carolina and Mississippi laws are good policy. And yet both are being attacked by big business and special interests. Those sorts of attacks have been going on for a while now.

In Arizona, Indiana, South Dakota and Georgia, governors caved to the economic threats from big business. The corporate elites didn’t win an argument. Instead they threatened to boycott and transfer jobs out of the state if the governors didn’t do as they insisted.

This economic coercion is a form of cronyism – cultural cronyism.

Big businesses use their outsized market share to pressure government to do their bidding at the expense of the will of the people and the common good.

Many of us think that what these corporate giants are doing is bad for representative democracy and self-government. But they have a right to do it.

And yet, they want to deny the rights of bakers, florists, photographers, adoption agencies and marriage counselors.

Big business is using its market freedom to deny small businesses and charities their religious freedom. The hypocrisy is astounding. Bravo to Govs. McCrory and Bryant for standing up to it.

 - Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

 - This piece was Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.