Tillis: State religion bill has no chance of passing - WNCN: News, Weather

Tillis: State religion bill has no chance of passing

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

House Speaker Thom Tillis said Thursday that a bill to assert that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit states from establishing an official religion has no chance of passing.

"Not at all," Tillis said Thursday. "It's been filed by members of Rowan County concerned with people preventing them from opening their sessions with prayer. But I don't think the members had any intention to move the bill.

"They wanted to make a statement and support their local members."

Tillis called the measure a "resolution, not a bill, so it doesn't have any practical effect."

He added, "There was no intent whatsoever to create a state religion. People really need to read the resolution and understand it, and understand that is has no material affect because it's not a bill."

Republican lawmakers Rep. Carl Ford (R-District 76) and Rep. Harry Warren (R-District 77) filed the bill Monday in the House of Representative.

While the bill does not specifically disclose which religion should be North Carolina's established religion, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month to stop the Rowan County Commission from opening meetings with Christian prayers.

Entitled "Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013" (House Bill 494), the bill challenges the language of the U.S. Constitution, in which the First Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Ford and Warren contend the prohibition "does not apply to states, municipalities or schools."

"Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion," the bill reads.

The bill's sponsors further argue the federal government and federal courts do not have the "power to determine what is or is not constitutional." Rather, "the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people."

Warren says the bill was only intended to allow Rowan County commissioners to open their meetings with prayers.

In a statement released Tuesday, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook said the bill's sponsors "fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principles of the separation of powers that date back to the founding of this country."

In a 2011 ACLU case ruling (Joyner v. Forsyth County Board of Commissioners), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that if local boards decide to open meetings with invocations, the prayers may not indicate a preference for one faith.

"Matters of faith are deeply personal. When the government appears to be taking the side of one religion over others, it gives rise to the very type of religious divisiveness and exclusion that the First Amendment seeks to avoid," said Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney for the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

H.B. 494 passed its first reading on Tuesday and 12 lawmakers co-sponsored the measure.

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