Opinion: CJ Exclusives

Charlotte’s newest attempt to elevate political chaos can’t work this time  

Another "solution" in search of a problem passed by Charlotte City Council

Charlotte, NC
Charlotte, NC

Charlotte is at it again with its latest attempt to sow chaos into North Carolina politics. The effort should fall on deaf ears. In other words, don’t take the bait.

Proponents of the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance have not shown there is a prevailing reason for it in the first place. Is there a mass refusal of services for people who fall into the city’s definition of a “protected class”? After a year of closed businesses and labor shortages, it remains difficult to believe, nor is there any evidence to support the idea, that employers are turning away help or customers.

Just as it was in 2016, this ordinance is a “solution” in search of a problem.

The city’s last “nondiscrimination” law in 2016 tried to compel businesses to allow transgender individuals to use whatever restrooms and changing facilities they choose. No matter their sex. Reactions were swift.

The kerfuffle led to the passage of House Bill 2, which invalidated Charlotte’s order. It essentially said people must use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. Chaos ensued with corporations, celebrities, other states, sports franchises, and the NCAA all either boycotting or threatening boycotts.

We may never know if H.B. 2 swung the 2016 governor’s race, but the controversy proved to be a fundraising bonanza for current Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper. North Carolina became ground zero for a dizzying flurry of woke activism. Many on the right were caught off guard by the aggressive trans and broader LGBTQ activist push, and it showed. Basketball was the last straw for many. Potentially losing state-located NCAA tournament games for schools like Carolina or Duke became too heavy a burden.

Cooper and the General Assembly reached a compromise on H.B. 2 in 2017, allowing the state law to sunset in 2020.

Here we are again. As in 2016, exemptions for inherently private accommodations like restrooms and changing rooms are struck from earlier drafts of the ordinance. Exemptions for religious organizations are offered in the proposal this time, but not exemptions for personal religious beliefs of a private business owner.  Like in 2016, supporters of the ordinance have offered no compelling evidence this is a problem that requires a solution in Charlotte. Rather it appears to be an effort to stir up another cultural and political storm.

This evening Charlotte passed its renewed effort at an anti-discrimination ordinance. The initiative will prohibit businesses in Charlotte from denying any services based on gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, gender, and natural hairstyles.

The ordinance sounds innocuous, and words like “equality,” “love,” and “equal rights” are strong narratives in the public square today. Yet religious liberty, a first principle of free societies, is inevitably further threatened.

Many Christians and others from different faith backgrounds can’t in good conscience use their business and creative talents to celebrate redefining marriage, or even gender. For them, a government definition of human sexuality is not ultimate in their life or being. At the founding of our Republic, the rights of conscience towered over public life. Increasingly, it’s being whittled down to a domain subservient to political ideologies.

Americans saw this unfold as Christian businesses — whether it was bakeries, wedding planners, or photographers — were summarily targeted and sued for refusing to violate their own consciences, being forced and fined to use their gifts and talents to affirm same-sex marriages.

That is the overwhelming threat to small businesses in Charlotte. The new ordinance will specifically include small businesses, the type of operation that tends to attract conscience-driven entrepreneurs.

Let Charlotte be Charlotte on this matter. Don’t play their game and wade into their political playground. Religious liberty groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom, First Liberty Institute, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty are equipped to handle cases of religious conscience in a way state politicians and lawmakers aren’t. They have had success at the U.S. Supreme Court on religious liberty issues. The fight will be in good hands. The fight will continue there.

It’s undeniable that the right has lost the most on cultural issues over the past few decades. The left, particularly in urban enclaves, knows this and is looking for opportunities to pounce on dissenters from the culture. Ultimately, politics or even winning elections can do little to transform culture. Many of the lessons of H.B. 2 revealed that truth in spades.

In much the same way, new anti-discrimination ordinances seemingly offer external affirmations for ideologues on human sexuality, but they do little to change the human heart. The left suffers immensely there when it forces compulsion and uncompassionate mandates on the population.

For many on the right, whether it’s a political ax to grind or to score a cheap win with the base, there will be a temptation to dive into this cultural fight. The left in Charlotte knows that. Charlotte’s left needs the fight for its 2022 election prospects and where like-minded ideologues want to take the state.

They’re betting you don’t know better or won’t be able to help yourself. Yet there is more wisdom in caution in letting them own their own ordinance. The courts must be left the authority to consider the rights of individuals, not city council members with a political agenda.

And when it comes to compelling individuals to violate their conscience, those on the left will overstep once again. They always do.

The Carolina Journal Editorial Board members are Ray Nothstine, Donna King, John Trump, Donald Bryson, and Amy Cooke.