North Carolina’s governor went to federal court May 9 to defend his state’s new restroom privacy law against a threat from the Obama administration.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s lawsuit asks a judge to declare the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, also known as HB 2, does not violate federal anti-discrimination protections by requiring individuals in government buildings to use the restrooms of the sex on their birth certificates.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) had written McCrory and two other state officials May 4 to assert HB 2 violated federal law. It threatened a lawsuit – and seemingly the loss of millions of dollars in federal education aid – if North Carolina did not indicate by May 9 its intention to change the restroom measure.
Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and state welcomed McCrory’s action.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the North Carolina law “a common-sense measure that protects individuals as well as conscience.”
“Contrary to what the White House has said, the North Carolina bill is not discriminatory or hateful,” Moore said. “Bullying of state legislatures by the federal government is the government engaging in culture warring, and the rights of those who dissent from mainstream cultural opinion should be protected.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a written statement, “It is not the role of the federal government to mandate radical and extreme bathroom policies to a state like North Carolina, forcing our citizens into giving men access to the bathrooms, showers and locker rooms of women and young girls.”
A Southern Baptist, Fitzgerald described McCrory’s lawsuit as a “common-sense approach” that requests “a federal judge to determine whether the Obama administration can unilaterally change the meaning of the term ‘sex’ in our country’s anti-discrimination laws to include transgender.”
In its letter, the DOJ said the federal laws the North Carolina measure violates include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA).
North Carolina “is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees,” the letter said. The law, which took effect March 23, “is facially discriminatory against transgender employees on the basis of sex,” according to the letter.
“Under HB 2, non-transgender state employees may access restrooms and changing facilities that are consistent with their gender identity in public buildings, while transgender state employees may not.”
An April decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., preceded the Department of Justice’s letters. The appeals court panel held federal law could be interpreted to include gender identity discrimination.
McCrory’s lawsuit said the state “does not treat transgender employees differently from non-transgender employees. All state employees are required to use the bathroom and changing facilities assigned to persons of their same biological sex, regardless of gender identity, or transgender status.”
The suit said the governor has directed state agencies to provide a reasonable accommodation by means of single occupancy restrooms.
McCrory and his co-plaintiff, Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry, “desire to implement state employment policies that protect the bodily privacy rights of state employees in bathroom and changing facilities,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs also desire to accommodate the needs of state employees based on special circumstances, including but not limited to transgender employees.”
In a written statement May 9, McCrory said, “The Obama administration is bypassing Congress by attempting to rewrite the law and set restroom policies for public and private employers across the country, not just North Carolina. This is now a national issue that applies to every state and it needs to be resolved at the federal level.”
The DOJ sent letters not only to McCrory and Perry but to University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings as well.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch struck back at the state with a lawsuit only hours after McCrory announced his suit against the federal government. She called the bathroom law “state sponsored discrimination,” according to the Associated Press.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. With reporting by David Roach, chief national correspondent for BP. Biblical Recorder staff added to this story.)