CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina's Republican leaders are calling a federal warning about the legality of the state's new law limiting LGBT anti-discrimination rules a broad overreach by the government.
The Justice Department sent letters Wednesday to Gov. Pat McCrory, the head of the University of North Carolina system and another agency saying federal officials view the law known as House Bill 2 as violating federal Civil Rights Act protections.
McCrory and state legislative leaders are deciding what to do in response, but it doesn't sound like the Republicans' plans will include canceling the law.
The Justice Department wants state officials to declare they won't carry out the law and allow people to access bathrooms and other facilities "consistent with their gender identity."
McCrory and fellow Republicans say President Barack Obama's administration has gone too far by stepping in.
U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose confirmed to Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos Wednesday that the notice was sent to the governor.
The law, which requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that conform to the sex on their birth certificate, has been broadly condemned by gay-rights groups, businesses and entertainers. Some have relocated offices or canceled shows in the state. Several other states have proposed similar laws in recent months limiting protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, the Justice Department said federal officials view the state law as violating federal Civil Rights Act protections barring workplace discrimination based on sex. Provisions of the state law directed at transgender state employees violate their anti-discrimination protections, the letter said.
"The State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees and both you, in your official capacity, and the state are engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance" of their rights, the letter said.
The DOJ notification appeared to be an attempt by President Barack Obama's administration to extend a new requirement involving which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender people will be allowed to use, McCrory said.
"This is no longer just a North Carolina issue, because this conclusion by the Department of Justice impacts every state," McCrory said during a forum with the state's chamber of commerce. The move represented "something we've never seen regarding Washington overreach in my lifetime."
McCrory, who signed the bill into law in March, has defended the law and said he didn't think it would have any financial impact, either on the economy in general or on federal school funding in particular.
But shortly after it was passed, PayPal reversed plans to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte, Deutsche Bank froze expansion plans near Raleigh and convention officials reported some meetings were avoiding the state. Nearly 200 corporate leaders from across the country, including Charlotte-based Bank of America, have urged the law's repeal, arguing it's bad for business because it makes recruiting talented employees more difficult.
House Speaker Tim Moore, who helped pass the law known as House Bill 2, said he would speak with McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger about the state's legal options. Moore told reporters that the letter was an attempt by the Obama administration to "continue its radical left agenda" in his final months in office.
"This is a gross overreach by the Obama Justice Department that deserves to be struck down in federal court," Berger said in a news release.
The Justice Department said in a separate letter to the 17-campus University of North Carolina system that the state law violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in education based on sex. That could lead to North Carolina losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school funding.
UNC President Margaret Spellings offered the following comment on receipt of the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding federal nondiscrimination law and the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (HB2):
“We were notified this afternoon that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has determined the UNC system is in violation of federal nondiscrimination law as it relates to the NC Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, commonly known as HB2. We take this determination seriously and will be conferring with the Governor’s Office, legislative leaders, and counsel about next steps and will respond to the Department by its May 9 deadline.”
The letter effectively serves as a warning to the state to proceed at its own peril or risk being sued. Civil-rights groups and several individuals sued in North Carolina federal court in late March seeking to overturn the law.
McCrory and GOP legislators "were warned about these dire consequences, but they ignored the law and the North Carolinians it would harm and passed the bill anyway," said a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, which helped filed the lawsuit.
It has not been uncommon during the Obama administration for the Justice Department to weigh in on hot-button civil rights issues. In March, the department sharply discouraged state court administrators from jailing defendants who can't pay court fines for petty offenses. The letters to North Carolina don't have the force of law, but it puts the state on notice that its actions are being watched and run afoul of federal civil rights laws.
The letters seek confirmation by Monday that people can "access bathrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity."
The government could file a lawsuit to protect state employees from discrimination, the letters said.
Channel 9 obtained a copy of the email sent by Charlotte’s city attorney, Bob Hagemann, explaining the D.O.J. notice to members of council. In it, he said a portion of House Bill Two still applies.
Hagemann explains that state and local government workers have the right to use bathrooms in the workplace, based on the gender they identify with, but also said that protection does not apply to visitors and customers in a government facility.
That person would have to use the bathroom based on their biological sex.
The Justice Department's intervention could affect similar laws passed in other states.
Mississippi's House Bill 1523, which becomes law July 1, says government and business workers can deny services to people by citing their own religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman and that a person's gender is set at birth and is unchangeable.
The day after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to block what he called the "overreaching, unconstitutional, and blatantly discriminatory piece of legislation." Thompson told The Associated Press in a text message Wednesday that he had heard about the Justice Department's letter to North Carolina.
"I would expect a similar letter to be sent to Mississippi in the near future," Thompson said. "The circumstances in both states are closely aligned. Discrimination in the name of religion is illegal."
Officials from Bryant's office and the Mississippi attorney general's office said they had not received a letter from the Justice Department by Wednesday.
"Mississippi's law prevents state agencies and political subdivisions from punishing employers that opt to have gender-specific standards" for employees' dress or restroom use, Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said. "This law does not establish or mandate a specific policy for restroom facilities."
McCrory released a statement early Wednesday night
“A claim by the Obama administration charges that one part of House Bill 2, which requires state employees in public government buildings and students in our universities to use a restroom, locker room and shower facility that match their biological sex, is now in violation of federal law,” McCrory said. “The Obama administration has not only staked out its position for North Carolina, but for all states, universities and most employers in the U.S.
The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy. We will be reviewing to determine the next steps.”
The University of North Carolina system also received a letter informing them they are in violation of federal law. They also have until Monday deadline to respond.
Legislation has been proposed in states across the country to protect those who — due to religious beliefs — decline to employ or serve certain people. Critics say the laws are aimed at the LGBT community and are discriminatory. Recent laws denounced as discriminatory in North Carolina and Mississippi has prompted a growing backlash from opponents. The US Justice Department said Wednesday that North Carolina's law limiting protections for LGBT people violates federal civil rights laws. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says the Obama administration's warning means the issue is no longer confined to North Carolina and could affect other states. Here's a look at legislation around the country:
Alabama lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed a measure to prevent the state from refusing to license childcare service providers who decline services that conflict with their religious beliefs. Religious organizations contract with the state to provide some childcare services, and opponents of the proposal have argued that the bill could be used to exclude gay and lesbian couples from adopting children or being foster parents. The bills were indefinitely postponed.
In Alaska, during the current Legislature, bills barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity have gone nowhere, and bills to allow clergy to refuse to solemnize a marriage without being subject to criminal or civil liability failed to gain traction before the scheduled end of the 90-day session. Lawmakers remain in extended session but have narrowed their focus to budget and revenue bills.
Arkansas lawmakers last year approved a revised version of a religious objections measure after the initial version faced widespread criticism that it was anti-LGBT. The Legislature also enacted a law aimed at preventing cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination measures that include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Colorado lawmakers introduced a bill in February that would have blocked the state from taking any action that may burden a person's religious freedom unless it was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. A House committee indefinitely postponed discussion on the bill.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law stating that clergy, churches, religious schools and other religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for marriage celebrations that violate "a sincerely held religious belief." The law takes effect July 1.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the government from imposing penalties on religious schools and organizations that chose not to employ or serve people based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The proposal would have also protected clergy who declined to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.
A bill to prevent insurers and health care providers from discriminating against transgender patients has passed both chambers of the Legislature, and has been sent to Gov. David Ige. The measure prohibits denying, canceling or limiting coverage for services including care related to gender transition, under certain conditions. Several lawmakers also introduced bills to protect the freedom to express religious beliefs by prohibiting the state from taking discriminatory action based on the person's moral convictions, but the bills were never granted a hearing.
Chicago Public Schools will allow transgender students and employees to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identities. Related, there is a lawsuit by families against a suburban Chicago school district over allowing transgender students to use a girls' locker room. Illinois lawmakers are advancing a bill to let transgender people change the gender marker on their birth certificate without having to undergo a sex-change operation first. The bill is awaiting action by the full House, where it's expected to pass before proceeding to the Senate.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill last year barring government entities from substantially burdening the religious exercise of individuals, organizations and businesses, unless by the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest. After businesses raised concerns, Pence signed an amended version stating that the law cannot be used to deny services, public accommodations, employment or housing based on race, religion, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.
A proposed bill to prohibit the government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion similar to legislation being considered in many other states was introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives in January. The proposal has been referred to the judiciary committee.
A new law prevents colleges and universities from denying religious student associations the same funding or benefits available to other groups because of requirements that its members follow the association's religious beliefs, standards or conduct. The law will take effect in July. Bills were also introduced to order public schools and colleges to designate restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities for use by males or females according to students' gender at birth.
The Republican-led Senate passed a measure that would have expanded the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act by barring penalties against those who decline to provide "customized, artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods or services" to people that would infringe on their "right of conscience" or religious freedoms. The bill was never brought up in the Democratic-led House.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order providing state employees and contractors with protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and more, with exemptions for churches and religious organizations. Edwards also rescinded an order former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed that prohibited state agencies from denying licenses and contracts to businesses that take actions because of religious beliefs against same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, the Louisiana House voted to allow clergy and churches to refuse to perform or host same-sex marriage ceremonies, a proposal that awaits debate in the state Senate. Edwards doesn't oppose the bill, but says it's unnecessary because the First Amendment provides those protections.
The Legislature is weighing a bill to expand a 2011 state law banning discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in restaurants, malls and other public accommodations, including restrooms.
Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson says he's firmly committed to introducing legislation to prohibit transgender students from using a bathroom other than the one matching the sex listed on their birth certificate. Casperson said his proposed bill, which has not yet been introduced, would allow transgender students to use staff restrooms in the school, or single occupancy unisex bathrooms, but only with the consent of the student's parent. Michigan Board of Education president has told policy makers and educators that LGBT students should be acknowledged and embraced.
A bill was introduced in late March to require employers and public facilities to designate separate restrooms and changing rooms for men and women. A portion of the bill reads, "No claim of nontraditional identity or 'sexual orientation' may override another person's right of privacy based on biological sex." Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system communications director Doug Anderson said no teams will participate in tournaments in North Carolina this spring. The NCAA Division II national baseball tournament and National Junior College Athletic Association Division III World Series are set to take place in North Carolina.
A new law prohibits the government from taking "any discriminatory action" against religious organizations that decline to host marriages, employ people or facilitate adoption or foster care based on a religious belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person's anatomy at birth. Several states and cities have banned travel to Mississippi and rock singer Bryan Adams canceled a concert in the state to protest.
A Missouri religious objections proposal has failed to get the approval of a key legislative committee in a setback for conservatives who hoped to add protections for those who cite their faith in denying services such as flowers or cakes for same-sex weddings. Members of a House committee voted 6-6, with a tie vote not enough to advance the measure.
A bill to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was defeated in the Nebraska Legislature this year. Lawmakers have shelved the bill for the rest of the year.
Three New Mexico lawmakers in December 2015 introduced a measure "to prevent discriminatory action by a person or a government agency in response to a person's free exercise of religion." The proposal died during the 2016 regular session.
A new law prevents local and state government from mandating protections for LGBT people in the private sector or at stores and restaurants. The law was enacted in late March partly to overturn a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. The law suffered a blow Tuesday when a federal appeals court that oversees North Carolina issued an opinion that threatens part of the law requiring students to use bathrooms in line with their gender at birth in public schools and universities.
North Dakota lawmakers have defeated measures in each of the past three sessions to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.
A bill pending in the Ohio House would let churches and pastors refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Under the so-called Pastor Protection Act, no clergy could be required to solemnize a marriage or have their church property be used to host a ceremony that's against their religious beliefs. The proposal has had several hearings.
A new law states clergy and other religious officials cannot be required to perform marriages or provide marriage counseling, courses or workshops that violate their conscience or religious beliefs. On March 14, gay rights advocates in the state celebrated the failure of 27 bills in the Legislature that they said unfairly discriminated against LGBT people.
Gov. Tom Wolf in early April signed an executive order barring state contractors and grant recipients from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislation that would ban such bias in employment, housing and public services has stalled; a committee chairman says he wants to make sure it wouldn't violate anybody's religious liberties or freedom of conscience.
A bill to require transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex has died. A Senate panel took testimony, mostly from opponents, over two days last month but took no vote and the bill has not been heard in a committee. An attempt to add a proposal to the state budget this week to withhold money for local governments that allow LGBT people to use the bathrooms of their choosing was ruled out of order. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and state business leaders opposed the ideas as unnecessary.
The South Dakota lawmaker who sponsored a bill that would have required transgender students to use bathrooms matching with their birth gender is no longer running for re-election. Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch said Monday his decision to exit the state House campaign is for personal and business reasons. The chiropractor from Florence says his choice had nothing to do with widespread attention the bathroom bill drew. GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the bill. The House also passed legislation barring government from taking "discriminatory action" against people, organizations or businesses based on religious beliefs that marriage should be between one man and one woman, sex outside marriage is wrong or that sexual identity is determined by a person's biological sex at birth. The bill did not pass before the legislative session ended.
Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation exempting mental health counselors from providing services to clients based on the therapists' religious beliefs and personal principles, as long as they refer the clients to someone else. The American Counseling Association has said Tennessee is the only state to allow counselors to refuse to treat patients for those reasons. The sponsor of a bill to require students at public grade schools and universities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender at birth pulled the legislation to see how legal challenges play out in other states that passed similar legislation.
The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed the state's effort to overturn an Austin lesbian couple's marriage that came months before same-sex weddings were legalized nationwide. Three justices objected Friday. Nonetheless, the Republican-controlled court has upheld a lower court's order allowing Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend to marry last February, about four months prior to the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioning gay marriage in all 50 states. Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must allow gay marriage, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law last June stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be required to marry people or allow their facilities to be used for wedding celebrations that violate a "sincerely held religious belief." Texas did not hold a legislative session in 2016, but the previous year, a Republican-backed bill repealing local ordinances banning discrimination against gay and transgender people failed without reaching a floor vote in either chamber. The proposal attempted to roll back such ordinances that already existed in all the state's largest cities. Instead, the all-Republican state Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to an anti-discrimination ordinance approved by Houston's City Council, and ruled that it had to be put to a referendum. Houston voters soundly defeated the ordinance in a November 2015 election featuring very low turnout.
Utah in 2015 passed an anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal to base employment and housing decisions on sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay-rights advocates had tried for years to pass similar legislation but only succeeded last year when the measure won support of the Utah-based Mormon church and included religions protections.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a Republican-backed bill stating that clergy and religious organizations cannot be penalized for declining to participate in same-sex marriages.
Legislation concerning sex-specific restrooms was introduced by Republicans in both chambers of Washington's Legislature but never gained any traction. A bill that would have repealed a recent Washington Human Rights Commission rule allowing transgender people to use locker rooms and bathrooms consistent with their gender identity was voted down by the Republican-led Senate. Another bill on the issue died in committee in the House.
The only bill introduced in the Republican-led Legislature dealing with gays, lesbians and transgender people was a measure to force transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms assigned to their gender at birth. GOP leaders never brought the bill up for a vote before the two-year session ended.
The Republican-led House passed a bill modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating that government "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless by the least restrictive means for a compelling government interest. The bill was amended and then defeated in the Senate.
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