Raleigh, North Carolina — Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have proposed legislation to defend what they believe is the right of states and municipalities to establish a particular religion.
The Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013 was filed on Tuesday by Representatives Carl Ford and Harry Warren, and is supported by nine additional sponsors. Reports state that one of the objectives of the bill is to ban activist judges and humanist organizations from thwarting Christian prayers during government and public meetings.
Local station WRAL notes that the bill is a result of arguments between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the county last month, complaining that the prayers that have opened meetings since 2007 have been overwhelmingly Christian.
“Overtly Christian prayers at government meetings are not rare in North Carolina,” WRAL explains. “Since the Republican takeover in 2011, the state Senate chaplain has offered an explicitly Christian invocation virtually every day of session, despite the fact that some senators are not Christian.”
However, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland ruled in 2011 that government-sponsored prayers cannot favor one religion over another.
The legislation proposed by lawmakers this week argues that each state is sovereign and the courts cannot prohibit state officials from publicly preferring and practicing Christianity.
“The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion,” the bill reads. “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.”
While some contend that the measure would violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, the bill’s authors disagree, stating that the ban only applies to the federal government as it outlines that “Congress shall shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“[T]his prohibition does not apply to states, municipalities and schools,” the legislation disputes. “Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.”
It points to the Tenth Amendment as granting states the power to determine the intent of the Founding Fathers.
“[B]y virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people,” the bill asserts.
Sponsor Harry Warren told a local conservative organization in 2010 that states need to stand up for the right to create their own laws.
“I wholeheartedly believe that we have to do what we need to do to protect our sovereignty,” he explained. “And I would fight very hard to make sure we maintain our sovereignty and our state’s rights.”
Other legislators behind the proposed bill include House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, Justin Burr and Larry Pittman.