North Carolina Republicans have advanced a resolution intended to allow the state to declare an official religion.
Opponents of the bill say it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A dispute between the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the American Civil Liberties Union factored into the introduction of the bill. In mid-March, the ACLU sued the county commission generally begins its meeting with a Christian prayer.
“I want my local government to be open and welcoming to people of all beliefs,” said Nan Lund, a Salisbury resident who is one of three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. “But when officials begin a public meeting with prayers that are specific to only one religious viewpoint, I feel unwelcome and excluded.”
“All citizens of Rowan County deserve to be treated equally by their government, regardless of their personal religious beliefs,” stated Chris Brook, ACLU-NCLF legal director. “By refusing to obey the law and insisting on opening meetings with prayers that are specific to only one religion, the Rowan County Commissioners have created an environment where citizens of different beliefs are made to feel alienated. In order to make local government more welcoming to citizens of all beliefs, officials must end this unconstitutional practice at once.”
The Senate also begins its daily work with a prayer, usually a Christian prayer.
State Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford introduced a measure intended to protect such prayers and reject federal court intervention on the issue. The proposal states, in part, “The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”
On April 2, the measure won the support of a house committee.