By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
The long tradition of opening the General Assembly of North Carolina with prayer is under attack from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who wants the Legislature to ban the prayers that it says are “explicitly sectarian and favor one religion, Christianity.”
The ACLU wrote a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper recommending that the House and Senate change their policies, which now allow the person bringing the prayer to follow his or her conscience about how to pray. In the Senate, the Rev. Peter Milner, chaplain, often mentions Jesus in his opening prayers. Prayers in the House are offered by individual lawmakers, many of whom chose to pray “in Jesus’ name.”
“Think about the ramifications of this push from the ACLU. It’s as if they are saying that folks can have all the freedom to pray in public that they want as long as they don’t dare reveal to whom they are directing those prayers,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “What kind of freedom is that?”
Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) said he is “sick of the ACLU trying to ruin America.”
“The ACLU is threatening the General Assembly because we, as individual members, choose to use the name of Jesus Christ during our daily opening prayers in both the House and Senate,” Burr wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook site.
“I think they are a little confused about the First Amendment and I’d suggest they re-read the Bill of Rights,” Burr wrote. “… They won’t stop or scare me from using the name of Jesus Christ. Are we sure the ACLU doesn’t stand for the Anti-Christian Liberal Union?”
The ACLU’s North Carolina branch has heightened its legal threats in light of the Forsyth County prayer case in which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Board of County Commissioners’ practice of allowing local faith groups to say a prayer prior to their meetings’ start. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the county’s appeal.
Dr. Creech lamented at the time that the Supreme Court had missed an opportunity to clarify a point of law that the lower courts have disagreed about. In October of 2008, the 11th Circuit Court had refused to “embark on a sensitive evaluation or to parse the content of a particular prayer” in a case in Cobb County, Ga., and said that determining whether invocations are “sectarian” is best “left to theologians, not courts of law.” However, the 4th Circuit, in the words of dissenting Judge Paul Niemeyer, “dared to step in and regulate the language of prayer — the sacred dialogue between humankind and God.”
Dr. Creech called the ACLU’s take on the issue a “radical interpretation, an extreme interpretation, of the First Amendment.”
According to the Associated Press, House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Majority Leader Paul Stam (Wake) both said they’ll consider the ACLU’s concerns, but neither seemed worried about the Legislature violating the First Amendment.
“The ACLU has an affinity for pushing a radical, far-left agenda that is out of touch with most North Carolinians,” Tillis said in a statement.
He further pointed out that, “The same Constitution that prohibits government-sponsored religion also protects the right of individuals to exercise their faith as they so choose.”
”We don’t shed our First Amendment rights to the free exercise of our religion when we walk through the door of the public square,” said Rev. Creech. “Just because we are at a public meeting or a state function, we are not obligated to practice our faith according to the dictates of any court or the ACLU. It is immoral to require the prayer of any person be scripted or formulated to government demands, whenever or wherever. That is unjust and must be resisted” he added.