The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a split vote, has condemned North Carolina’s HB2 and a Mississippi “religious objections” law, saying they are part of a trend toward using religious beliefs to deny people their rights.
The commission on Monday noted that Virginia and Georgia passed similar laws that were vetoed in the face of public opposition. Other similar legislation in Kansas and Tennessee indicates there is a movement afoot, the commission says.
“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.
Former N.C. Associate Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson is vice chairwoman. She was appointed by President Barack Obama in July 2014. Her political party affiliation is independent.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit, religious public interest law firm that has advised North Carolina Republican legislators, issued a statement Monday night 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.
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.