A bill introduced by state lawmakers this week to create a religion for North Carolina is already dead, said State Representative Ken Goodman of Rockingham.
The bill, filed Monday by two GOP lawmakers from Rowan County and backed by nine other Republicans, said each state “is sovereign” and courts cannot block a state “from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.” The proposed legislation was filed in response to a lawsuit to stop county commissioners in Rowan County from opening meetings with a Christian prayer, according to Goodman.
The bill’s main sponsors are state Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury). The proposal said the First Amendment only applies to the federal government and does not stop state governments, local governments and school districts from adopting measures that defy the Constitution. The legislation also said that the Tenth Amendment, which says powers not reserved for the federal government belong to the states, prohibits court rulings that would seek to apply the First Amendment to state and local officials.
Earlier in the week Goodman said he would be shocked if the bill made it beyond the committee, and he confirmed Thursday that the bill was dead. Goodman said he speculates the bill was killed by the leadership of the committee because it “doesn’t want to own the bill.”
“Courts would strike it down if it passed,” said Goodman, “and (the bill) would be questionably unconstitutional.”
Goodman said states cannot go against the Constitution, and such attempts to grandstand should not be made.
Goodman said, while he didn’t agree with the proposed bill, he also doesn’t agree with the ACLU lawsuit against the Rowan County Commissioners for beginning their meetings with prayer.
Although perhaps right to take up the issue, the lawmakers pushing the state religion bill may have made it more complicated than it needed to be, Goodman said.
“To me, (the lawsuit) is wrong,” said Goodman. “They are grown adults. If they want to say a prayer they can do so.”
The man who heads the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Kenneth Robinette, shares a similar view on prayer. County Board meetings are traditionally opened with prayer, and Robinette said he believes that is what the people of Richmond County want.
“Our board feels that our constituents in Richmond County support us opening in prayer,” said Robinette. “It’s not ever been a problem, and I don’t think anyone has ever been offended. We will continue to do so. If someone is offended by us doing this, they should wait outside the meeting during the first five minutes. We were voted by the majority, and I believe in this case majority should rule.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.