September 13, 2016 11:21 AM
The impact of religious liberty legislation in North Carolina became more visible on Monday, as the NCAA announced that seven college tournaments scheduled to be played in the Tarheel State during the 2016-2017 academic year will be moved to alternate locations. The action was taken because of the state’s House Bill 2, which requires transgender individuals to use bathrooms in state facilities corresponding to their birth sex and prohibits cities from enacting civil rights ordinances with protections for LGBT individuals.
In a statement, the organization said that the decision by the NCAA Board of Governors was made to protect the civil rights of its student-athletes. “Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
The North Carolina Republican Party issued its own statement, calling the decision to relocate the tournaments “so absurd, it’s almost comical.” NCGOP spokesperson Kami Mueller said, “I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor. Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking and instead focusing their energies on making sure our nation’s athletes are safe, both on and off the field.” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted her own response this morning:
In addition to the loss of civic pride, the loss of the first and second round basketball tournaments along is expected to have a $14 million impact on the Greensboro economy, according to WFMY TV News. The state has already lost the NBA All Star Game scheduled for this winter, and John Swofford, the commissioner of the ACC, refused speculate what it might do about conference championships scheduled for North Carolina, saying the matter will be discussed at meetings previously scheduled for this week. And the re-election bids of Governor Pat McCrory and Sen. Richard Burr are seen as being in trouble, in part because of what’s become known as the bathroom bill.
In Georgia, Governor Deal vetoed House Bill 757, which combined elements of three separate bills introduced during the 2016 legislative session, including a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that had been under consideration for the two previous sessions, a “Pastor Protection Act” proposed in the House that some felt did not go far enough to protect the free exercise of religion, and a First Amendment Defense Act that some believed would allow a religious organization to discriminate against LGBT individuals.
How could the NCAA’s action potentially affect the prospects for passage of religious liberty legislation during the 2017 session? After the US Department of Education issued guidance on the use of transgender bathrooms in May, State Sen. Josh McKoon vowed to introduce legislation allowing parents to sue school boards if a child was injured due to a bathroom confrontation. A 2015 effort to pass a RFRA stalled in the House Judiciary Committee over whether it could be used to override local ordinances that provided civil rights to LGBT individuals–something the NCAA took into consideration in the North Carolina case.
Earlier this summer, Sen. Greg Kirk, who sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act told the AJC he was planning on four debates this month with Sen. Vincent Fort, an opponent of the bill. No debate schedule has been publicly announced. Another wild card is whether a legislator with an eye on running for higher office in the 2018 elections might pick up the religious liberty mantle and make it an issue in 2017.
The NCAA moving its tournaments out of North Carolina, its request of other venues to certify that they or their government do not interfere with civil rights, the departure of the NBA All Star Game, and businesses PayPal and Deutsche Bank reconsidering expansions, all show that there are real economic impacts associated with passing laws perceived as discriminating or interfering with civil rights. Yet, many Georgia residents, especially those outside metro Atlanta, believe their right to worship freely according to their beliefs is being threatened. As Gold Dome leaders begin to plan their priorities for 2017, there is certainly something to think about.