The Republican candidate for an open House seat in North Carolina likened his efforts to undermine LGBTQ rights via religious exemptions to the work of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
State Sen. Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee in the Sept. 10 do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, made the remarks in email communications with conservative activist leaders in March 2017. The emails were obtained through a public records request by the liberal news site Real Facts NC, which published them online at the end of June.
In the exchange, Bishop and the conservative activists discussed how to minimize the partial repeal of H.B. 2, the state’s so-called bathroom bill. Among other things, the overturned bill had barred localities from enacting anti-LGBTQ discrimination rules, including rules allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice. It had also prohibited public schools from doing so.
Bishop had floated language for a religious exemption, or “conscience clause,” that he hoped the Republican legislature could negotiate with newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The provision aimed to override any local bans on discrimination against LGBTQ people in cases where such a ban “burdens an individual’s pursuit of the dictates of conscience concerning religion in connection with an act of expressive creativity.”
Such an exemption would have applied to conservative bakers unwilling to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples and other people involved in an “act of expressive creativity.” In the past, people in creative fields have had grounds to argue in court that being forced to bake ― or forge another creative product ― for same-sex couples violates their freedom of speech.
But the activists with whom Bishop was communicating worried that the exemption would be too narrow. “Whom are we attempting to protect here?” asked Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates an anti-LGBT hate group. “Just creative professionals?”
“As Oscar Schindler said, as many as we can,” Bishop replied, comparing his wish to see the maximum number of people exempted from local anti-discrimination laws to Schindler’s professed desire to hire, and therefore save, as many endangered European Jews as possible during World War II.
In the end, North Carolina did not append a religious exemption to its partial repeal of H.B. 2, though there was a bipartisan compromise to pass the bill. Cooper and the Republican legislature agreed that the repeal of some of the law’s anti-LGBTQ provisions would not take effect until December 2020.
In response to a request for comment about his remarks, Bishop campaign spokeswoman Jessica Proud pointed to a subsequent email in which Bishop justified limiting the exemption to people involved in an “act of expressive creativity” to strike the right balance between protecting religious professionals and business owners and their customers.
“Senator Bishop’s next email (four minutes later) further explained his thought about the drafting of a religious conscience exemption: ‘Define the right too broadly, bad actors go free by cynical claims of religious belief. Define narrowly enough to protect the people likeliest to be targeted by the real haters,’” Proud said.
Bishop is running against Democrat Dan McCready, a solar energy entrepreneur and Marine veteran.
McCready narrowly trailed Republican Mark Harris in the November general election after votes came in on election night, prompting him to concede the race.
But in December, McCready withdrew his concession to Harris amid mounting evidence that Harris-aligned Republicans had perpetrated massive election fraud on the candidate’s behalf. When the North Carolina board of elections subsequently announced a highly unusual do-over special election, Harris announced that he would not run again.
On paper, the makeup of North Carolina’s 9th, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the state’s southern border, is challenging for Democrats. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by about 11 percentage points in 2016.
But national Democrats are betting that higher-than-normal enthusiasm among liberal voters, McCready’s moderate profile and the scandal of the pro-GOP voter fraud case will propel McCready to victory in what is likely to be a low-turnout race. By the end of April, McCready had vastly outraised Bishop with about $1.6 million on hand, compared to Bishop’s $184,000.
The only public poll conducted of the head-to-head matchup between Bishop and McCready showed Bishop ahead by 4 points in late May. The lead is within the 5-point margin of error.
The revelation that Bishop used a Holocaust analogy to characterize his advocacy against LGBTQ rights is likely to aid Democratic efforts to pick off suburban voters who tend to be more liberal on such issues.
For his part, Bishop has leaned into his conservative credentials in an apparent effort to turn out the Republican base. In a video advertisement, Bishop introduces himself as “conservative Dan: pro-life, pro-gun, pro-wall.”
Bishop has also endured scrutiny for investing $500 in Gab, a social media platform popular among white supremacists and other extreme right-wing figures, and subsequently touting the investment as a blow against Silicon Valley-based social media companies’ perceived liberal biases.
Pressed to answer for the move in November, Bishop claimed to have been ignorant of extremists’ use of the platform. But there was enough awareness of the platform’s appeal to extremists that Google Play banned it the same day Bishop made his investment.