The Republican speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives killed legislation on Thursday that aimed to establish an official state religion.
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Charlotte) announced Thursday afternoon that the bill would not be receiving a vote in the full House, effectively dropping the measure. Loretta Boniti, a reporter for News 14 Carolina, broke the news on Twitter, and it was confirmed in a breaking news alert posted on the home page of wral.com, a Raleigh-based television station. Tillis' decision followed several days of national media attention on the bill, which also said that the state government did not have to listen to federal court rulings and was exempt from the requirements of the First Amendment.
The bill, which was drafted by state Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), was intended to address an issue in Rowan County, where the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the county commission in an attempt to block commissioners from having a Christian prayer at the beginning of meetings.
The North Carolina measure responds to the ACLU suit by declaring that each state is "sovereign" and no federal court can prevent a state from "from making laws respecting an establishment of religion." Though Warren, one of the bill's authors, told HuffPost Live that the measure was not seeking to create a state religion, the drafted legislation would clearly allow for such an action.
SECTION 1. 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.
SECTION 2. 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.
The North Carolina bill seeks to play the First Amendment both ways. It says that the state is exempted from the establishment clause under the First Amendment, which establishes the "separation of church and state." The clause reads that "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion." But the North Carolina bill asserts that prohibition does not apply "to states, municipalities, or schools," and that North Carolina could establish a state religion. The bill then goes further, portraying this reasoning as a protection of the freedom of religion, including the state lawmakers' right to exercise their own religious beliefs.
In fact, in a series of cases stretching back nearly a century, the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does cover state governments. Judicial precedent has held that any such proposals on the establishment of religion must have secular, legislative purpose; cannot inhibit or advance religion; and cannot be "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
An explanation on why Tillis decided to kill the measure was not posted and a Tillis spokesman was not immediately available for comment. The media firestorm regarding the legislation comes as Tillis is considering a bid for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) next year. Tillis was not a co-sponsor of the bill, which originally drew 11 GOP supporters, including Tillis' deputy, Majority Leader Edgar Starnes (R-Hickory) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Justin Burr (R-Albemarle). Three additional Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors since the bill was first introduced on Monday.