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Measure 3 support not enough; Religious amendment to state constitution rejected

FARGO -- North Dakota voters weighed in on whether the state needed to bolster religious freedom in Tuesday's statewide election.

As of 10:38 p.m. Tuesday, 395 of 426 precincts had released ballot results with 36.1 percent voting yes and 63.9 percent voting no.

Those early and incomplete tallies included 53,973 yes votes and 95,934 no votes.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. in Fargo.

Measure 3 would amend Article I of the North Dakota Constitution by adding: "Government may not burden a person's or religious organization's religious liberty."

Proponents said the amendment would bolster religious freedom.

Opponents said Measure 3 was worded vaguely, could lead to "freedom of religion" being used as a defense in criminal cases and was unnecessary as religious freedom is not threatened in North Dakota.

"It would be different if people's rights were being trampled," said Tom Fiebiger, a Fargo-based civil rights attorney and chairman of North Dakotans Against Measure 3. "The average North Dakotan has the same religious liberties they have always had and will continue to have."

He and other opponents asked supporters to point to a case or incident in which Measure 3 would've benefitted a person or organization.

Christopher Dodson, executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said Measure 3 was preventative to keep rights from being challenged.

"When it comes to protecting religious freedoms, we don't wait for a high-profile issue and somebody's religious freedoms to be infringed before acting," Dodson said.

"It simply puts the burden on the government that it needs to have a very good reason if it is going to encroach or infringe upon an individual or an organization's religious First Amendment rights," said Tom Freier of the North Dakota Family Alliance.

Dodson and Freier signed the initiative petition to put the law on the


Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Diocese of Fargo, was also on the sponsoring committee.

Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota, the North Dakota Women's Network and the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition all announced opposition to Measure 3.

Measure 3 supporters said similar protections have been passed in

27 states, but opponents point out only Alabama has amended its constitution.