BJC weighs in on NC religion bill

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty says the question of whether the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause applies to the states was settled long ago.

By Bob Allen

A Washington-based organization that represents several national Baptist groups in defending religious liberty for all Americans says a resolution introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly asserting the state’s right to establish an official religion is just plain wrong.

“While some issues are difficult, the question of whether the U.S. Constitution's religion protections apply to the states is not one of them,” the Baptist Joint Committee said in a statement.

nc fordTwo Rowan County lawmakers gained national attention April 1 by introducing a resolution stating the First Amendment’s declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” does not apply to states, municipalities or schools.

“The Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion,” the resolution says.

The measure filed by Rep. Carl Ford, (R-China Grove) and Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) comes as their county gears up to fight a lawsuit that seeks to end the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ practice of opening meetings with specifically Christian prayers.

nc warrenThe American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit March 12 in federal court demanding the county “stop its unconstitutional practice of opening government meetings with prayers that are specific to one religion.”

The lawsuit came more than a year after the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation sent a letter informing the board that sectarian prayers at its meetings violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, provides that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” A 1943 Supreme Court decision, Everson v. Board of Education, applied it to the Establishment Clause.

“Most Americans appreciate religious freedom and are thankful for our constitutional tradition that protects both the free exercise of religion and guards against its establishment,” the Baptist Joint Committee statement said. “While legislative prayer (using a government forum to exercise religion) is controversial, government declaring an official state religion is off the charts.”

Founded in 1946, the Baptist Joint Committee is an education and advocacy organization composed of representatives of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States. It is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state.