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N.C. bathroom restrictions challenged by activists

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Despite a federal court challenge, social conservatives in North Carolina are defending a state law upholding religious liberty and requiring individuals in state government buildings to use restrooms based on the gender indicated on their birth certificates.

“North Carolinians are pretty fed up with their voices being clamped down and tossed out” regarding the defense of traditional marriage and religious liberty, said Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor running for U.S. Congress as a Republican. “… The citizens of North Carolina are determined their voices are going to be heard.”

A lawsuit filed in federal court March 28 by pro-transgender activists alleges North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. According to the lawsuit, the bill’s “requirement that transgender people be shunted into single-sex spaces that do not match their gender identity invades their privacy and exposes this vulnerable population to harassment and potential violence by others.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has defended the law, including in a document titled “Myths vs. Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren’t saying about common-sense privacy law.”

Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told Baptist Press McCrory’s classification of the mainstream media is an accurate reflection of a “mammoth misinformation campaign” afoot among the cultural left.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, the governor’s Democratic opponent in his bid for re-election this year, has refused to defend the measure in court, calling it a “national embarrassment” that “puts discrimination into the law,” the Associated Press reported.

The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act was passed March 23 during a special session of the state legislature convened in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that would have taken effect April 1 barring discrimination in public accommodations based on “gender identity, gender expression” and “sexual orientation.” The ordinance deleted a section of the city code stipulating sex discrimination laws did not apply to “restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private.”

State lawmakers overturned the ordinance by establishing a state nondiscrimination law that preempts all local government laws. The new state law prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodation of individuals based on, among other factors, their “biological sex,” identified as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is defined on a person’s birth certificate.”

The law does not include an explicit ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

McCrory’s “Myths vs. Facts” document argues the law permits private businesses to allow anyone to use any restroom. It also permits transgender persons to use the restroom of their choice in state facilities as long as they have changed the sex indicated on their birth certificates — a change allowed in North Carolina only for those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Republican state Rep. Paul Stam, speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives, told BP the lawsuit filed against the bill “reads like a novel.”

“If the courts follow the law, the lawsuit will be thrown out,” said Stam, a former member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and a former trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “… This is a wild lawsuit.”

Among the suit’s claims:

— One plaintiff’s “sex assigned at birth was female, as his birth certificate reflects, but that designation does not accurately reflect his gender identity, which is male.”

— “Medical treatment such as the surgery required to update a person’s North Carolina birth certificate does not alter a person’s gender … but rather merely brings a person’s body into alignment with the gender they have always been.”

Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, told BP the new state legislation is necessary to preserve the rule of law, safeguard religious liberty and protect public safety.

“We just did not need the risk of men in women’s restrooms,” Harris said. The Charlotte ordinance “said that transgender individuals simply could choose to go to whatever restroom they felt most comfortable with. It was based on what they felt. It didn’t even say they had to be presenting as a woman.”

Harris continued, “No one ever said that a transgender individual was more likely to be a predator on innocent children or women. However, the way this ordinance was written … it certainly left the door wide open for people with less than positive motives to use this to be in a women’s restroom.”

Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, told BP that restricting restroom use based on biological sex “is not just a safety issue, it’s also a modesty issue.”

Supporters of open access to restrooms should “talk to more women about this,” said Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There are some innate gender differences, and one of them is modesty … My wife was just horrified [before the state legislature acted] at the prospect this [Charlotte] law was going to go into effect.”

Land added that religious liberty protection for wedding service providers who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds is an underreported aspect of the new state law.

“Religious freedom is a right that is not granted by the Constitution,” Land said, referencing its divine origin. “It is recognized. It is guaranteed by the Constitution. The idea of discrimination goes both ways. These laws are meant to protect citizens’ religious freedom. It’s to protect the faithful and their beliefs.”

State Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a co-sponsor of the measure, told BP pro-transgender activists in North Carolina should present their case directly to state and federal legislators rather than acting via local ordinances — which he classified as violations of the state’s constitutional principle that governing power is vested in the legislature unless the legislature delegates specific powers to local governments.

Adding to the list of groups legally protected against discrimination “is an argument you need to take to either Congress or to the state … instead of trying to overreach and kind of go behind with a local municipality, which didn’t have the authority to do that,” said Jordan, a Republican and a Southern Baptist.

He added, “I would not want to add more federally protected classes. I’m not sure where that’s going to stop.”