N.C. Resolution on State Religion Was Aimed Against ACLU Legal Attack

By:  Dave Bohon
N.C. Resolution on State Religion Was Aimed Against ACLU Legal Attack

A proposed resolution by North Carolina lawmakers was meant to target the ACLU's attack on local government, not establish an official state religion, the resolution's authors explain.

The North Carolina legislature has shelved a proposed resolution declaring that the state has the authority to establish an official religion. According to the Charlotte Observer, the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis said the resolution, which asserted that North Carolina and its counties are not bound by the First Amendment with regards to religious expression, would not be voted on, meaning that it is essentially dead. Fox News reported that the resolution had been introduced in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against North Carolina's Rowan County over the custom of its board of commissioners to open government meetings with Christian prayer. The secular legal group had accused the commissioners of violating the First Amendment by praying in Jesus' name.\

State Representative Harry Warren, one of chief sponsors of the resolution introduced on April 1, said the measure was not intended as a serious effort to establish an official religion, but rather a statement of support for the county. North Carolina's Salisbury Post quoted Warren as saying that the resolution was “on my part a demonstration of support [for Rowan County] more than an effort to have the courts revisit everything.”

He pointed out that the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state “has been liberally defined and interpreted” by federal courts, and the resolution was an effort to offer a more conservative understanding. “I didn’t expect it to go anywhere,” Warren admitted. “Quite often bills go there and never come out.”

House Joint Resolution 494 notes that while the federal judiciary has “incorporated states, municipalities, and schools into the Establishment Clause prohibitions on Congress,” the Tenth Amendment “prohibits the federal government and prohibits the federal courts from expanding the powers of the federal government beyond those powers which are explicitly enumerated.”

The resolution points out that because the Constitution does not grant the federal government or the courts “the power to determine what is or is not constitutional ... by virtue of the Tenth Amendment ... the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people.” By virtue of these constitutional stipulations, “each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion,” the resolution continues.

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