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2017 NC Leg Wrap-up
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2017 Legislative Wrap Up

By Dr. Mark Creech
Executive Director
Christian Action League

As many of you already know, the Christian Action League of North Carolina is a Christian public-policy organization, birthed by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina decades ago, but today represents conservative evangelical churches from sixteen denominations in the Tar Heel state. We have a full-time presence in the North Carolina General Assembly and address legislative and public-policy matters from a strong biblical worldview.

Whether it’s a question of public policy impacting the family, the life of little unborn babies, the defense of religious liberty, America’s Christian heritage, substance and alcohol abuse, gambling, pornography, etc., the League never shies away from confronting any of these difficult and controversial subjects. The League is always in the vanguard of the discussion.

As the League’s executive director, I serve not only as a registered lobbyist for conservative evangelicals in our state, but my role often has me doubling as a pastor for lawmakers and their legislative staff in Raleigh. 

I am repeatedly in the news from eastern to western North Carolina, and occasionally on the national level. I regularly speak to churches across the state, keeping them informed, and challenging them to engage the culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a trusted voice, I have been invited to speak to political forums far and wide. This year, I was the keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast of the North Carolina GOP Convention.

My weekly editorials that speak to social issues and current events appear on some the most visited websites across the country.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, allow me to express the League’s deepest appreciation for your support.

Recently, I spoke with a certain church leader who erroneously said to me, “We’re sorry, but our church can’t support your work financially because you aren’t missions.” That gentleman couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Christian Action League is a Christian Missions organization, and there has never been a field more in need of a missionary than our state’s capital – the seat of power. I serve in this capacity.

Now to provide you with a short report:

The 2017 Long Session of the General Assembly was a grueling one. It was a session of highs and lows.

There were many things that passed in the state’s budget bill,

SB 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017, with which social conservatives should be pleased.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The budget increased spending for the next two years for crisis pregnancy centers from $300,000 to $1.3 million. Various grants of upwards to $1 million were allocated to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship for “durable medical equipment.” The equipment includes ultrasound machines, along with training clinics for properly using them.

Greater School Choice

It expanded the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships Act, which passed by the General Assembly in 2013 to help students from low-income and working-class families attend a private school, even a Christian school, by providing state-funded tuition scholarships up to $4200 annually per student. The Children with Disabilities Scholarship funds which became available in 2014 reimburse families for approved educational expenses for special needs children. Those expenses include things like private school tuition, tutoring, and other therapeutic services. The budget appropriates $44.8 million for the 2018-2019 school years and then increases the appropriation to $54.8 million for the 2019-2020 school years.

Human Trafficking

Language in the budget also requires the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline number to be displayed at adult entertainment venues, alcohol outlets, hospitals, and highway rest stops and other places where victims of human trafficking often frequent. The number is 1-888-373-7888.

Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

Legislation that pertained to “Raising the age” of juvenile jurisdiction was another initiative rolled into the state’s budget.

This legislation was about bringing North Carolina into line with the rest of the country in its treatment of juveniles in the court system. Our state was the only state that prosecuted defendants as young as 16 and 17, accused of low-level and non-violent crimes, as adults. This saddled them with a record for the remainder of their lives. The Christian Action League was a strong advocate for the measure and our contribution was highlighted by the bill’s sponsor in the debate on the House floor.

So, with respect to many areas of our concern, good things were achieved this year. These were indeed the highs and they can truly be defined in every respect as moving us forward. But there were also lows.

Repeal of HB 2

Certainly the greatest low occurred in March, which was the repeal of HB 2, HB 142 – Reset of SL 2017-4. HB 2, commonly known as the “Bathroom Bill,” was the measure that created a national firestorm. Yet it was a common sense law that prohibited men from using the women’s restroom, locker room or showers, and vice versa. It also protected private business owners’ rights to live and work according to their religious beliefs without being punished by the government.

CAL was a strong advocate for the law. We were unashamedly instrumental in its passage in 2016. And when it was under assault by a leftist media, sports, business, homosexual activist groups and entertainment entities, we vigorously defended it. We also orchestrated 2 rallies which resulted in about 1200 people on the capitol grounds at the first and as many as 5,000 on the Halifax Mall at the second.

Yet, the pressure on lawmakers just became too much and they repealed the law. The repeal was not straight-up, however. It was touted as a compromise.

It still protects Privacy in Bathrooms and shower facilities by leaving regulation of multi-occupancy facilities to the state, returning to the status quo prior to the passage of Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance, which precipitated the need for HB 2.

It implemented a temporary moratorium on local sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances (SOGI) similar to Charlotte’s until December 1, 2020, to allow for federal litigation to play out.

The repeal of HB 2 was best characterized, I think, in Senator Dan Bishop’s (R-Mecklenburg) remarks on the Senate floor. Bishop said the bill which replaced HB 2 was “at best a punt…at worst a betrayal of principle.”

Gambling and Alcohol

Also disappointing and deeply disturbing to observe this year was the way lawmakers sponsored and vigorously supported legislation for gambling and alcohol interests.

This year lawmakers passed a bill that authorizes tax-exempt organizations to operate Las Vegas-style gaming nights and serve alcoholic beverages as a part of a non-profit’s fundraising events, HB 511 – Game Nights/Non-Profit Fundraiser.

Some argued the gambling bill, often referred to by the media as the “Casino Nights Bill,” isn’t really gambling. They said, “It’s all just for fun, rather innocuous, and no one was going to get hurt. No one was going to lose their paycheck. It’s all just for a good cause. But that’s just spin!”

The Gaming Nights (or Casino Nights) bill that lawmakers passed by a wide margin was, unfortunately, the state’s affirmation of Las-Vegas style gaming beyond its compact with the Cherokee.

Furthermore, allowing non-profits to use this means of fundraising just whets the public’s appetite for more gambling – a practice that is predicated on the losses and pains of others – something that typically preys on the most vulnerable among us – something that undermines our commitment to hard work and diligence – something that capitalizes on the lowest part of human nature – our greed and a spirit of covetousness.

The bill, admittedly, may not have had a direct link to the establishment of Casinos. Nevertheless, it would have created the kind of context for such to flower into full-fledged casino gambling, and it’s foolish to think otherwise.

Fortunately, and to our great surprise, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed this legislation, for which we are most thankful. And we certainly hope the majority party, our Republican friends, who typically identify with us on the values we represent, will reconsider their support for this wrong-headed initiative and make no effort to override the Governor’s veto when they reconvene on October 4th.

There were other gambling measures that were put forward that were meant to expand gambling.

The Senate’s budget proposal included a provision to double the appropriation for lottery advertising – something we were fortunate to beat back on the House side.

Another huge concern of ours was a bill that would have legalized online Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling, HB 279 – Fantasy Sports Regulation.

If you don’t know, fantasy sports gambling offers online gaming whereby players select virtual teams consisting of actual athletes and compete based on how those chosen athletes perform.

Fortunately, this legislation died in committee.

Now some of you might say, “Well Mark, all of those gambling measures were pushed back, we should see these as high moments, shouldn’t we?” My response is yes and no. We should be thankful for their defeat, but my reasoning for counting them among the lower moments of this session is because so many in the majority Party, which are typically our friends on such issues have supported and advocated for these bills.

Another measure that falls into this same category was a bill titled ABC Omnibus Legislation, SB 155-ABC Omnibus Legislation. It originally had a provision that would have raised the current limit on the number of barrels a brewery could self-distribute directly to retailers without working through a middleman, a wholesaler, from 25,000 barrels annually to 200,000.

Essentially, it would have allowed brewers to circumvent the second Tier of our critical Three Tier system of alcohol control, making it possible for them to concentrate their power directly with retailers.

The Three Tier system is a control system that provides essential checks and balances to prevent overly aggressive marketing and sales practices that can lead to alcohol falling into the wrong hands like underage drinkers; provide a clear and identifiable distribution chain that ensures the location of every ounce of a product well-known for its inherent dangers; and, to establish a transparent means of collecting taxes.”

Our lobbying activity succeeded in convincing lawmakers to strip this provision from the bill, but the measure was still left with multiple other provisions that expanded alcohol sales in ways we’ve not seen in decades.

Sunday-Related Bills

Moreover, there were Sunday-related bills that demonstrated what the League has suggested is indicative of a tacit disrespect for churches.

These Sunday-related proposals like the Sunday Brunch Bill, which was one of the provisions left in the Omnibus alcohol legislation to which I previously referred, authorizes Cities, Towns, and Counties to roll back the time for earlier Sunday alcohol sales from 12:00 noon to 10:00 a.m., providing they pass an ordinance to do so.

By the way, if your city, town, or county has yet to vote on a Sunday Brunch Ordinance, you should expect them to do so. To help you in your resistance to the passage of a Sunday brunch ordinance in your community, the League now offers the No Sunday Brunch Bill Toolkit, which is comprehensive in what you need to know about Brunch ordinances and the best talking points against them.

There was more legislation this year that also expanded Sunday hunting.

In 2015, lawmakers repealed North Carolina’s 145-year prohibition on Sunday hunting. Lawmakers did, however, grant our appeal to at least prohibit Sunday hunting from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – the hours most churches meet on Sunday mornings.

This year lawmakers sought to further expand Sunday hunting by removing other restrictions that had remained in the law from 2015, which pertained to Sunday hunting on private lands, allowing Sunday hunting on game lands, and allowing the hunting of migratory birds on Sunday.

And this year’s effort to expand Sunday hunting, HB 559 – Outdoor Heritage Enhanced, further included the House’s vote to remove the prohibition on Sunday hunting from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, the Senate, thank God, was sympathetic with our advocacy not to remove that provision and restored it.

You know, the repeal of blue laws is a very controversial topic, even among professing Christians. The primary contention for the repeal of blue laws is that they are adverse to freedom. I suggest you can’t make Sunday like any other day of the week if you want to sustain liberty. Freedom can only be preserved by a God-loving, God-fearing, and God-honoring people. If society fails to recognize a special time for promoting and encouraging these traits, then it’s human nature to neglect them.

We don’t want the government to force church attendance. Still, there is nothing unconstitutional, unethical, or un-American about laws that cooperate with religion’s indispensable labors to cultivate the kind of character that makes for a citizenship fit to guard and preserve liberty – something of great secular relevance.

Actually, a people untrained in self-discipline and virtuous living cannot stay free. This is the role of churches, and, in part, the purpose of the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy.” To keep repealing laws that circuitously (indirectly) support this essential service is self-defeating as a people.

To a great degree, our lobbying activity helped modify the harms in these gambling, alcohol, and Sunday-related bills, fashioning bad bills into better ones.

We salute the way lawmakers worked with us. Still, it would have been better had these measures never been given consideration.

There is a sense in which the challenges before us have always been complex, but this seeming change of direction concerning vice and insensitivity to religious influence by many Republicans makes our efforts considerably more difficult.

In response, the Christian Action League will need to enlarge, as well as make more efficient, our networking with thousands of pastors and churches across North Carolina. If Christians remain aloof and unengaged, if we do not challenge these initiatives, we will share in their negative consequences and shame. We must rise to this occasion.

Because a report of this nature must be limited, I welcome an opportunity to address any questions this report may have precipitated. Moreover, the Christian Action League’s website is full of stories which handle thoroughly all of these previously mentioned public-policy initiatives.

Conclusion

John Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:

“The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young gentlemen could unite….And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had United all Parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence.”

Our freedom is totally dependent on whether the great principles of the Christian faith remain a moral compass for our laws. To our ruin, we have already abandoned these far too much and liberty is in peril.

God save the great state of North Carolina. God save our great Union, the United States of America. God bless the churches of your Association, and may God bless the Christian Action League.

Respectfully Submitted,
Dr. Mark Creech
Executive Director

This report was first delivered by Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, to the Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, September 25, 2017

The Journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Biblical Recorder, has provided an abbreviated version of this report at this link.