The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a split vote, has condemned North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and a Mississippi “religious objections” law, saying they are part of a trend toward using religious beliefs to deny people their rights.
The commission noted that Virginia and Georgia passed similar laws that were vetoed by governors in the face of public opposition. Similar legislation in Kansas and Tennessee indicates there is a movement afoot, the commission said Monday.
“Religious freedom is an important foundation of our nation,” Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro said in a statement on behalf of the commission. “However, in the past, ‘religious liberty’ has been used to block racial integration and anti-discrimination laws. Those past efforts failed and this new attempt to revive an old evasive tactic should be rejected as well.
“The North Carolina and Mississippi laws, and similar legislation proposed in other states, perverts the meaning of religious liberty and perpetuates homophobia, transphobia, marginalizes the transgender and gay community and has no place in our society.”
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The commission is an eight-member independent agency that advises the president and Congress on civil rights. Two of the commissioners, including the only Republican and an independent, dissented from the statement and issued their own views in opposition.
Commissioners Gail Heriot, an independent, and Peter Kirsanow, a Republican, asked their colleagues to “please take a deep breath” and called the commission statement “overwrought.”
“We regret the level of hysteria that has accompanied HB2, especially any contribution to that hysteria made by the Commission majority’s statement,” the dissenters said.
N.C. Associate Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson is vice chairwoman of the panel. She was appointed by President Obama in July 2014. Her political affiliation is independent, but she joined the majority statement.
Afterward, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit, religious public interest law firm that has advised North Carolina Republican legislators, issued a statement saying the commission “grossly misrepresents” the states’ legislation.
“Rather than bringing reason and clarity, the statement from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights simply adds more fuel to the politically motivated hysteria surrounding the reasonable, commonsense laws, bills, and executive actions in North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kansas,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel for the Alliance, said in a statement.
Raleigh Chamber, council join fray
The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, saying that House Bill 2 is “bad for business and bad for North Carolina,” is calling for its immediate repeal.
“HB2 has already harmed business growth in Wake County and the state of North Carolina’s reputation,” the organization said in a statement released Tuesday. “This legislation is a threat to our mission as an organization devoted to growing our region’s economy. Our state has been represented negatively in more than 5,300 media outlets across the United States with nearly 8 billion impressions.”
Later Tuesday, the Raleigh City Council voted unanimously to endorse the Chamber’s statement. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the law is “bad for business” and “does not represent Raleigh’s values.”
The statement notes that HB2 has already cost Wake County 250 jobs that Deutsche Bank had planned to add in Cary. A technology company that was considering creating up to 1,000 jobs in the region is no longer considering the Triangle, according to the chamber.
“Several other companies have eliminated us from consideration, explicitly citing this bill,” the Chamber said. “Our Convention and Visitors Bureau is reporting over $3.2 million in lost revenues, and much more is at risk.”
Cartoonists’ confab still on
Here’s an event that is not canceling in protest of HB2, but that may not be welcome news to supporters of the new law.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is sticking with its scheduled September convention in Durham. About 100 political cartoonists from throughout the country and Canada will join with comedians and satirists on the Duke University campus for three days.
“Other groups and companies are boycotting because that is the only way they can express a political opinion,” Adam Zyglis, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial cartooning at The Buffalo News and current president of the group, said in a statement. “Expressing an opinion is precisely what we do, so I say we should go to the heart of the controversy and speak out on this issue.”
J.P. Trostle, festival co-host and former IndyWeek cartoonist, said HB2 will be central to the event.
“Cartoonists and comedians don’t shy away from controversy – they embrace it. They run toward it,” Trostle said. “I’m sure Pat McCrory and politicians in Raleigh will be happy to hear we’re bringing an entire convention of these people to their doorstep.”
‘Selective outrage’ and hypocrisy
Gov. Pat McCrory continued Tuesday to push back on the entertainers who have canceled North Carolina appearances in protest.
McCrory has been saying that 29 other states have anti-discrimination laws similar to HB2. Opponents of HB2 dispute this, saying none go as far as North Carolina’s.
Against that backdrop, McCrory has called out what he describes as hypocrisy and “selective outrage” on the part of bands and other acts that pulled out of this state but perform in those other states and in foreign countries with poor human rights records.
“Three weeks after HB2 was signed into law, it is clear that instead of protesting political disagreements, these cancellations are more about gaining media attention and inflicting economic damage on hardworking North Carolinians who stood to make money from their appearances,” McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in an emailed announcement Tuesday.
Diaz singled out: the band Boston, which he said is touring in 15 of those states; Cirque du Soleil, touring in Russia and 13 of the states; Bruce Springsteen, in 13 states with similar laws; Ringo Starr, in six states and Russia; and actor George Clooney, who called HB2 “ridiculous,” for promoting a film of his in China.