Could a 'religious freedom' bill become law in North Carolina

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Could North Carolina become the next Indiana or the next Arizona when it comes to a so-called "religious freedom" bills?

Could North Carolina become the next Indiana or the next Arizona when it comes to a so-called "religious freedom" bills?

This week, Republican Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex) filed a bill similar to 20 others in the nation and modeled on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The bill would allow employers to pick and choose who they want to do business with based on their own personal religious beliefs.

Other states where similar bills have been proposed have had varying degrees of success. Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed one last year but Friday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also a Republican, signed one into law.

"If I thought this was discriminatory," Pence said, "I wouldn't have signed it."

Stam has a similar view on his own bill.

"Some people believe that religion only applies to what goes on behind the stained glass windows," Stam said. "But most real religions believe it affects what you do outside the doors and windows as well. Can a state or local government order a citizen to do things to which they have sincerely held religious objections? The answer is no, unless there's a compelling state reason to do so."

However, some argue there is a compelling interest: human rights. Critics fear bills pushing religious freedom could trample equal rights.

"Basically what the bill does is ignore laws they disagree with under the guise of their religious beliefs," said ACLU Policy Director Sarah Preston. "Under a variety of circumstances, people could ignore non-discrimination laws and other laws that they don't want to abide by just by saying they have a religious belief.

"Religious freedom is obviously a very important American value," Preston continued, "but it shouldn't be used to discriminate against people. It was never meant as a tool to be used against people. It's not about being able to discriminate. It's not about being able to express your prejudices. That's not what religious freedom means."

But Preston and other critics aren't only concerned about potential discrimination resulting from Stam's bill, they're also worried about the economic impact it could have on North Carolina.

"In Indiana, we don't see the results yet," Preston said, "but we know at least one company has already said we're not going to invest in your state anymore because of this law."

What's more, just one week before Indianapolis hosts the NCAA's Final Four, NCAA President Mark Emmert also expressed concern about the Indiana bill. Hours after Gov. Pence signed it into law, Emmert said, "We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill."

In Raleigh, some business owners are already expressing a similar concern about Stam's bill.

"I've tried to see some kind of upside to this legislation, but I don't see it," said Tony Cope, founder of Raleigh-based Myriad Media.

Cope worries that legislation that could be viewed as discriminatory will hurt in recruiting clients and talent.

"It's a hurdle," Cope said. "I have to spend time and effort convincing people, 'this is the way the legislation is going but it's not the way we do business in North Carolina.'"

But Rep. Paul Stam is convinced once people understand the bill, they will support it. Stam says he expects 85 percent will support the bill and flatly dismisses the notion that it would be bad for the economy.

"About 20 states have it," Stam said. "I remember the same debate three or four years ago when our marriage amendment supposedly was going to kill business in North Carolina. Well, the ten fastest growing states in America all had marriage amendments."

Read Rep. Stam's bill here.

Watch our entire interview with Rep. Paul Stam here:
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