House Speaker: State religion resolution is dead, will not be voted on

Published: Apr. 2, 2013 at 9:22 PM EDT|Updated: May. 2, 2013 at 9:22 PM EDT
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Representative Harry Warren (R) and Representative Carl Ford (R)
Representative Harry Warren (R) and Representative Carl Ford (R)

ROWAN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A resolution by two state lawmakers representing Rowan County that supported North Carolina declaring an official religion is dead and will not be voted on, according to House Speaker Thom Tillis' office.

WRAL reported the news on Thursday afternoon.

On Monday, House Joint Resolution 494, called the Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013, was filed by Republican Representatives Carl Ford and Harry Warren.

Warren represents Rowan County and is in his second term.

Ford represents Rowan and Cabarrus counties. He was on the Rowan County Commission when the American Civil Liberties Union first raised the objection to sectarian prayers at meetings more than a year ago.

The resolution, which would back county commissioner's use of sectarian prayer in meetings, is co-sponsored by nine other Republican Representatives from across the state.

The proposed resolution says citizens should not lose First Amendment protection "by virtue of their appointment, election, contract, employment, or otherwise engagement," and "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."

"First off, it is attempting to appease to a certain base of supporters here in Rowan County, but also probably throughout the state that believe very firmly in the needs for religious liberty," said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury.

"The other thing is to try and send a signal to the broader context, to maybe seek to influence, to galvanize, to maybe energize, but beyond that it's really not comparable to anything in law and is flying into over two hundred years worth of legal precedents and American legal history."

"It's something that the city of Kings Mountain has already passed, and they were asking for a statewide bill," Representative Ford told WBTV. "It's basically supporting the rights of the commissioners of Rowan County to pray as they want."

Despite the ACLU's objections, and now a lawsuit, Commissioners have continued to pray in the name of Jesus.

"The bill sponsors fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principles of the separation of powers that date back to the founding of this country," ACLU-NC Legal Director Chris Brook told WBTV in response to the resolution.

H494 was filed in the House on Monday and passed its first reading on Tuesday.  It was referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House.

A local church had already gotten behind the resolution before it was tabled on Thursday.

Cornerstone Church has purchased the first of several billboards that show support for commissioners, urging them to continue to pray in the name of Jesus.

The billboard is on U.S. 29 about a mile from the church.

"It's very exciting," pastor Bill Godair told WBTV on Wednesday.  "I was thrilled about it."

Godair had tried to donate $10,000 to the county's legal fund to fight the ACLU, but when the church was told that may not be legally possible, Godair turned to the billboard idea.

Some have criticized the move by Cornerstone, asking why the money wouldn't be better spent helping the poor.

"I am so proud to get to answer that," Godair told WBTV. "Let me give you an example, last year we gave away over $75,000 locally to people with mortgages, not counting our mission, but just locally to people with mortgages, rent, whatever, this past weekend, the last four or five days we've spent over $15,000 locally in our county and all the proceeds went to Rowan Helping Ministries."

"I know this money could have been given to the poor and I feel like we do so much and I feel like we elected these men, the fact that they're standing together unified, all 5 of them, I just feel like that we have to stand with them," he continued.

The church is also ordering bright yellow tee shirts in support of the commissioners.

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