Carolina Quakers (A Few, at Least) Speak On HB2

The political purpose behind the notorious North Carolina “Bathroom Bill” or HB2, has never been hard to figure out: it is carefully aimed to stir up sexual anxiety among many in the state’s Republican base, and thus to maximize turnout in this fall’s election.

imageA similar ploy, to put a ban on same sex marriage (which was already illegal) into the state constitution was tried in 2012. Silly alarmist rhetoric was rolled out, about churches being invaded and ministers jailed, and the ban passed. Though soon struck down in court, the maneuver worked quite well politically: very conservative candidates swept the North Carolina legislature.

This year, a new panic was ginned up over mythical hordes of hulking male predators scheming to masquerade as transgender women so they could invade bathrooms and assault “little girls”. The idea is absurd (& such assaults are already illegal) but could well maximize conservative turnout again, and cement the right’s power base here.

For that matter, HB2’s bathroom provision was a very effective cover for the law’s other, more substantive provisions, which did very real harm, by stripping the state’s cities and citizens of several other rights, including some unrelated to gender, but very much to do with advantages to some greedy corporate interests.

But if the law stands, and does its turnout job, the achievement will have come at a very steep price. The national & international backlash against HB2 has already cost the state many hundreds of new jobs, business losses are estimated in the billions, and there’s been a major, ongoing hit to its public image.

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The NBA may move its 2017 All-Star Game from NC if HB2 stands.

Against this background, protests against (& for) the law have proliferated, with religious groups often prominent among them. In recent days, reports have surfaced about possible revisions in the law, in an effort to do some damage control before the legislature’s summer adjournment.

I’m on the road, and not in a position to chart these maneuvers. Here I want to note that NC Quakers have been surprisingly quiet about all this so far, and point up a couple of exceptions.

Thus far I’ve only seen two minutes about it (from NC meetings (if there are others, please let me know). While both call for HB2’s repeal, they take distinctly different approaches, which reflect the meetings’ diverse demographic and theological character: the first is from Spring Meeting, which is small, rural and semi-programmed. The second is from Durham Meeting: large, urban & quite liberal.

I for one am under no illusions that NC state legislators will pay much attention to either statement. The history of this law and the earlier anti-same sex marriage campaign point to the involvement of skilled, cynical political operators who wield huge amounts of money in pursuit of much larger agendas which make pawns of their earnest, anxious followers. I have yet to meet or read of any among today’s politicians who give a hoot about the “Quaker vote.”

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Nevertheless, such statements can be valuable to Friends, at least for those led to affirm and welcome those some would treat as strangers and outcasts. Figuring our how to bear this witness is continuing work, and speaking up beats cowed silence. And even if most politicians aren’t listening, others, known and unknown, future as well as present, may be.

Spring Friends Meeting Statement on North Carolina House Bill 2

As a Quaker Christian community, we at Spring Friends Meeting remember Jesus’ first public words. In the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4), he said he was sent to preach good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty to those who are oppressed.

We also recall his declaration that those who welcomed the stranger were in fact welcoming him (Matthew 25). At Spring Friends Meeting, we feel called to this same mission, and seek to do our small best, as way opens. As part of that effort, we now express our deep distress at the recent passage by the North Carolina legislature of what is called HB2.

This legislation is much more extensive in scope and insidious in intent than the widely publicized restroom provision.

• House Bill 2 specifically omits sexual orientation from a status that can be protected from discrimination.
• It specifically bans municipalities and other local governments from enacting locally-approved legislation such as a higher minimum wage, anti-discrimination for persons who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, safe-havens for undocumented immigrants or any measure which the State deems contradictory to its arbitrary will.
• The law also removes the ability for persons to use state courts for pursuing redress for discrimination.

We acknowledge the sincere fear that has induced many to support the law solely on the basis of its bathroom provision, and likely without knowledge of the bill’s other clauses. We believe this fear has been used to promote a broad range of real injustices through this law.

We see this law in its entirety as meant to increase oppression, reject and stigmatize those, who some see as strangers, and increase hardship for the poor and rejected.

We are even more dismayed and saddened that this action is supported by some in the name of Christianity, and what they call “religious liberty.”

Quakers should know about and cherish religious liberty. Early members of the Religious Society of Friends suffered and struggled peaceably for decades to gain the liberty to meet, worship and witness openly and faithfully-and even to marry. Friends in North Carolina suffered and were persecuted for their association with the Underground Railroad and their peaceful resistance to the Civil War.

And since its 1650s origins, the Quaker struggle for liberty has been meant to include others, not only those of their own religious society. From the beginning, this sought-after religious liberty included women, formerly silenced. Within a century it expanded to call for liberty of the enslaved.

In our time, the Spring Meeting community has been led to welcome those of diverse backgrounds, of once-despised and excluded orientation and presentation, and to urge this liberty be extended to all. The only criteria being that an individual be an earnest seeker of Truth, Peace, and spiritual harmony. We are grateful that many others are following a similar path.

To our mind, the spirit of HB2 is contrary to this historic Quaker narrative of witness. It makes a mockery of the Apostle Paul’s forceful declaration that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

In the face of this effort to roll back crucial achievements of Christian and American liberty, we appeal to those who supported and voted for this law to re-examine their consciences, and act to repeal it. 

We urge Friends and others, of all faiths and of none, to raise their voices for genuine liberty and bring an end to such needless, oppressive legislation, here in North Carolina and elsewhere.

And we affirm that we will take concrete steps to support those challenging this enactment by peaceful and legal means, as way opens.

Approved by Spring Friends Monthly Meeting, 6/19/2016

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Subject: Durham Friends Meeting requests repeal of HB2
Date: Thu, 5 May 2016 
To: governor.office@nullgovernor.ncmail.net

Dear Governor Pat McCrory,

On behalf of the Durham Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), we write with a pressing concern about House Bill 2 (HB2). Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone and have a deeply held spiritual belief in the fundamental equality of all people. Because HB2 diminishes the rights of some members of our community, and thus diminishes us all, the bill troubles us profoundly. For this reason, we seek the law’s swift repeal.

We are concerned about the broad impact of the bill, and hold a special concern for the most vulnerable among us. Transgender individuals, who already face discrimination and abuse, are further marginalized and threatened by this law. The bill, which was also used to strike down local minimum wage ordinances, limit citizens’ ability to pursue discrimination claims in state courts, and erode lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights more generally, will only serve to deepen divisions among us rather than lift up the possibility for greater equality.

Beyond repealing HB2, we urge our elected officials to put in place legislation that strongly protects the rights and safety of all our citizens. As a state, we must do what is morally right, with special care for the most vulnerable. On a spiritual level, let our actions be grounded in generosity, acceptance, and love.

In the Light of the Spirit that Guides Us All,

– Cathy Bridge & David Bridge, Co-clerks
Durham Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

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