Editorial: When government officials pick who to serve, it is wrong

Posted August 15, 2016

A CBC Editorial: Monday, Aug. 15, 2016; Editorial# 8042
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

People who work for the government – federal, state or local – are expected to serve the public – regardless of who the public is, where they practice their faith or even which restroom they choose to use.

In the courtrooms, judges follow the law in divorce cases, regardless of their personal religious views on marriage.

So why when it comes to state magistrates and registers of deeds, is there a special law allowing them to refuse to do their jobs when certain couples seek to get married?

Passed despite Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto in June 2015 (though the governor doesn’t mention it much), North Carolina law allows every magistrate and register of deeds worker the right to refuse to perform marriages or issue marriage licenses “based upon any sincerely held religious objection.”

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn heard from lawyers challenging and supporting the law, to determine how the case will proceed. While Cogburn expressed concerns about the law, he said he had questions about those who were challenging the law and whether they had legal standing to bring the case.

Republican legislators passed Senate Bill 2 last year amid the furor over the legalization of gay marriage. The unspoken, but clear intent of the law was to allow government employees to refuse service to gay couples.  Senate Bill 2 is an overly broad law that sets a dangerous precedent.  It is contrary to our government’s most basic founding principles – the right to practice ones own faith, free from religious dictates imposed by the government.  In the case of Senate Bill 2, it is a government official, a magistrate or register of deeds worker, imposing their views on citizens seeking a government service.

Upon a whim, couched as a “sincerely held religious objection” a magistrate could refuse to serve people -- any couple, regardless of gender. Registers of Deeds could refuse a marriage license to a Jewish and Christian couple because of objections to interfaith marriage.  This is wrong.

State Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, are the two most powerful members of the General Assembly and strongest backers of this law. Both are lawyers.

Surely they understand the distinction between government employees’ practice of their faith and making it legal for government workers to refuse services to anyone because of their race, age, gender or religious affiliation.

The North Carolina law is, in reality, less about faith but more a not-so-thinly veiled effort of Republican legislative leaders to incite and play to a part of the GOP political base. They score some partisan points passing the law and have an issue that can be ginned up as the election approaches to boost interest and involvement of those most likely to vote their way.

It is shameful that the leaders of the General Assembly are so willing to trample over the Bill of Rights to pander for votes during the campaign season.

With the many variables that go into legal issues, it is difficult and unwise to predict how a court will rule on a specific case. Even if the current challenge to the law is dropped on a technicality over the standing of the plaintiffs, it will be back.

Given the legal track record of other laws this legislature has had challenged in courts– most similarly motivated by partisan zeal over practical need or sincere desire to improve the state – it will be no surprise if, and when, the court rejects this effort to make discrimination legal in North Carolina.


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  • Fred Holt Aug 16, 2016
    user avatar

    Glad I could help

  • Fred Holt Aug 16, 2016
    user avatar

    None of these cover people who are paid to provide routine services to the general public but choose to impose their personal beliefs and pretend to wield the power of that govt job to fulfill their own agenda. Completely unacceptable: If one wishes to stake their claim on a moral position, then are not entitled to be paid by the public at large to do so.

  • Fred Holt Aug 16, 2016
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    Yes, a doctor in private practice gets to choose the jobs he/she takes.
    A CIA agent, while a government employee, must also know and follow treaties such as the geneva convention - so yes, refusing an illegetimate order is not only an option, but an obligation.
    Police wants to invoke the 5th amendment (which involves self-incrimination) to protect other than self - no.
    A bank deciding who to lend to based on their intended business - I'm going to say that the "is qualified" includes a business plan that says it's going to be viable. Past that, a public institution (backed by the US govt as banks are) need to lend to worthy borrowers.
    Last, according to the supreme court, the answer is yes, and when you consider that if you don't have insurance you are automatically considered a govt dependent - it makes sense.

  • Pei Nisiniu Aug 15, 2016
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    Can a doctor refuse to abort a baby he feels is too far into the term? Can a CIA agent refuse a command to waterboard a suspected terrorist? Can a police officer plead the fifth when his partner is accused of brutality? Can a local bank deny a loan to someone who qualifies but wants to open an escort service or a marijuana dispensary? Is it wrong to deny access to your restaurant to those who concealed carry? Can government force you to buy health insurance?

  • Kathy Rhodarmer Aug 15, 2016
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    So what you want is for these people to lose their jobs? ... No matter that no one has been turned away from getting a gov marriage license. After all, morality should always be dictated by the government. Right? These few magistrates, when they recuse themselves don't do any marriages ... NONE!! NADAH!! Not even heterosexuals are presided over by these magistrates. But then, you seem to think that's even wrong.

    The right of conscience, which is a well known, historic legal right is what this nation was founded on . And it seems anyone that has an orthodox Christian worldview need not apply for a gov job. In your opinion. That is nothing but tryanny!! Pure and simple.

  • Kathy Rhodarmer Aug 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Ahhh! ... Good job at carrying the water for the democrats.
    These hit pieces advocating for government morality just enrage me!!!

    >>So why when it comes to state magistrates and registers of deeds, is there a special law allowing them to refuse to do their jobs

  • Fred Holt Aug 15, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Swing and a miss by the self proclaimed disenfranchised conservative Christian. CBC is pitching a no hitter here as this batter doesn't know what bill the article is about, nor what the headline "Opinion" means, but is swinging away regardless.

  • Tom Estep Aug 15, 2016
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    If someone is unable to fully perform the duties required due to his/her "deeply held religious belief", may they should seek another line of work.

  • Aiden Audric Aug 15, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    McDowell County had every magistrate opt out. Marriages can now happen 3 days a week in a 5 hour window. We taxpayers have to spend money to bring in a magistrate from another county.

    That's unreasonable.

  • Carl Keehn Aug 15, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    You realize of course, that the article is referring to SENATE bill 2 and not House Bill 2. They are two different things and SB2 was passed in 2015.

    Nothing to do with bathrooms, only with the right for State Employees to discriminate.