A range of supporters who want North Carolina to pass a religious freedom act pushed on Tuesday for lawmakers to take up the legislation, even as House Speaker Tim Moore has said it will not move forward in the current session.
The advocates had a prominent supporter: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who met with the bill’s supporters and said he is working to keep the bill alive.
“We believe that the truth getting out today to the members of the House and the Senate is going to be a big part of their ability to have the courage to take this bill up on the floor either on the House or the Senate,” said Forest said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
The active support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is in contrast to statements by Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said a bill isn’t necessary.
Moore’s statement last week appears to have killed the bill’s progress in the House. An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate, but it would have to be heard and passed before Friday in order to stay alive for the session.
Senate leader Phil Berger and other senators have expressed caution about advancing on a bill as well, especially after firestorms in Indiana and Arkansas following passage of similar acts in recent weeks. Berger has pointed to language in the state constitution that already protects religious liberty.
Supporters say the purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is to provide people with a legal test for determining whether or not state action infringes upon the right to exercise their religion. In effect, they say, the law would protect them against state legislation that would otherwise force people to act against their religious beliefs in order to comply with laws.
It has played out mostly in the issue of same-sex marriage when religious beliefs conflict with public accommodation laws.
Critics of the measure say it enables individuals, and businesses, to discriminate against homosexuals. Several corporate CEOs have spoken out against religious freedom acts nationwide, including IBM and Red Hat in North Carolina.
Recent polling on the issue is mixed.
An Elon University survey taken last week asked registered voters to agree or disagree with this statement: “Businesses should have the right to refuse services to people who are gay or lesbian, if homosexuality violates the business owner’s religious beliefs.” Sixty-three percent said they disagreed.
A survey by Clout Research of registered voters this month asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed “that citizens of North Carolina should have the right to exercise their own personal freedom of religion.” Ninety percent agreed.
Advocates of the measure say the bill’s purpose is not to discriminate, but rather to balance government interests with individual freedoms.
“It simply provides protection for one of our most basic human rights, which is the freedom to live and to work according to our beliefs,” said Kellie Fiedorek, litigation staff counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which describes itself as a Christian legal advocacy group.