Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against North Carolina Religious Accommodation Law

Sep 21, 2016

ASHEVILLE, NC – Yesterday Judge Max Cogburn dismissed Ansley et al. v. Warren, a lawsuit against a North Carolina law that provides a religious accommodation for magistrates who object to officiating or granting marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Incidentally, Cogburn, an appointee of President Obama, had previously issued an injunction against North Carolina’s recognition of biblical marriage.

The district court ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge SB2 because none of the plaintiffs had been denied a marriage license by North Carolina officials. The plaintiffs’ sole allegation of injury was that recognizing exemptions and protection for magistrates with sincerely held religious beliefs against performing same-sex marriages amounted to discrimination against the plaintiffs, even though all of them had received marriage licenses. Judge Cogburn said the plaintiffs’ objection to SB2’s protection of religious beliefs was insufficient to establish any actual injury.

Last year, Liberty Counsel filed suit against the state of North Carolina on behalf of the magistrates, seeking to protect their religious freedom. In response, the House and the Senate passed a law to accommodate the magistrates. The Governor vetoed the law and both chambers overrode the veto. Then the plaintiffs filed suit against the law seeking to eliminate the accommodation.

The law (SB 2) states: “Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection.” Both the U.S. Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution require accommodation of individuals’ religious beliefs, regardless of their employment status. Liberty Counsel is representing, among others, Magistrate Brenda Bumgarner, who has an excellent record during her 10 years of service.

“The North Carolina legislature passed a law to accommodate the religious convictions of the magistrates in order to avoid making them choose between following their conscience or facing punishment,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “But the plaintiffs object to this reasonable accommodation and continually pursue the ridiculous fight against it. The magistrates should not be forced to violate their conscience, especially where there are reasonable options to accommodate their religious convictions,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.