It is tradition in many NC local governments (city, county commissioners, etc) to invite local religious leaders to offer a prayer before official government meetings.
(Local government in NC is part time, they meet once a week on weeknights.)
The leader would come in and pray that God give wisdom to the officials, that they make wise decisions to benefit the people they represent, etc. They invited a variety of leaders, representative of various religions and denominations and established a rotating basis for who would give the prayer. Each religious leader would pray in accordance with the customs of his own religious tradition.
About two years ago, the ACLU got wind of this and said that while praying to a "non-specific deity" was OK, offering prayers in the name of Jesus or sectarian prayers specific to one religious group was not.
Nevermind that no one was telling the pastors what to say when they prayed, and telling them what they can and cannot say when they are praying is a greater limitation on freedom of religion than allowing people to say whatever they want about God. The ACLU poured millions into lawsuits against various county governments trying to make them stop people from saying sectarian prayers.
Once again, the debate isn't over whether or not people can pray before meetings but what exactly they are allowed to say when they pray.
As a result lots of people in NC are spitting hellfire mad about what they view as an infringement on free speech and freedom of conscience by well funded lawyers from outside the state coming in and meddling in our internal affairs and culture. People have been donating money to county governments so they can fight the lawsuits. All over the state, pastors who have been invited to pray and instructed to pray only generic prayers have instead offered prayers in accordance with their religious tradition as an act of civil disobedience and basically dared the ACLU to stop them.
That's the background. I don't know the full thought process behind this bill, but I suspect the author never intends to actually declare a state religion, just make the point that (in his opinion) states could if they wanted to, which means that the ACLU's 1st Amendment arguments against prayer at county meetings are null and void. I'm pretty sure he knows it won't become law, will immediately be struck down, etc. Which is why he's mostly just filing it as an expression of how pissed off a lot of people are.
How are Blue Laws handled then? They're all implicitly or explicitly Christian in nature, and they're are still on the books all over the South. (My grandfather didn't hold a particularly high view of the ones we have in Georgia, haha)
I guess if Rowan County Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford are re-elected, then you know what you need to know about their electorate.
Two Rowan County Republican lawmakers want their legislative colleagues to support a resolution backing their county commissioners and their use of sectarian prayers at official meetings.
The Salisbury Post reports that Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford filed the joint resolution Monday. It says citizens should not lose First Amendment protection "by virtue of their appointment, election, contract, employment, or otherwise engagement."The Huffington Post headlined the story with “GOP Lawmakers Propose Official State Religion.”
But Warren said Tuesday night he didn’t intend to make that declaration by supporting what he saw as the “literal interpretation” of the First Amendment.
“This is, on my part, more of a demonstration of support more than an effort to have the courts revisit everything,” Warren said.
He also said he did not anticipate the bill going far.
“I didn’t expect it to go anywhere,” he said, noting that the bill was read into the floor Tuesday morning and referred to the committee for Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. “Quite often bills go there and never come out.”
Ford said the attention has had one intended result.
“It has gotten people to get out their Constitution and read it,” he said.
As the story has gained national attention, Cornerstone Church Pastor Bill Godair had a billboard put up along U.S. 29, near his church on Webb Road.
Instead it drew national attention as critics accused Ford and co-sponsor N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Salisbury, of trying to establish a state religion.
“We’re not starting a church. We’re not starting a religion. We’re supporting the county commissioners in their freedom of speech,” Ford said Wednesday.
1. Plaintiff would find some indication that the laws were religiously motivated*.
2. Plaintiff would allege that the law unfairly favored a particular religion.
3. Plaintiff would challenge under Lemon v. Kurtzman that the law had no valid secular purpose.
I can't honestly say how the Court would decide there.
*For example, comments recorded in the minutes of legislative debate. There was a case out of Louisiana regarding moments of prayer where a legislator said something to the effect of "Ya'll need to vote for this because this is how we'll get prayer back in schools." That actually played a pivotal role in the decision IIRC.
^That's how the Court views non-sectarian prayers at school graduations. As far as I know, they haven't applied such a standard to invocations at federal/state legislatures, but that's probably the standard that the ACLU wants your legislature to meet.
It is a cornerstone principle of our Establishment Clause jurisprudence that it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government, and that is what the school officials attempted to do.
Update on the situation:
SALISBURY, N.C. One of the North Carolina legislators who sponsored a resolution declaring the state can make its own laws about religion without involvement from the federal government and courts is apologizing for any embarrassment to his community and state.
The proposal's primary sponsors are Republican Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford of Rowan County. Warren tells the Salisbury Post ( http://bit.ly/12q8LTS) the now-dead resolution was poorly written.
Warren says he only intended to allow Rowan County officials to continue opening meetings with prayer, not to establish a state religion. The American Civil Liberties Union sued county commissioners last month, accusing the panel of violating the First Amendment by routinely praying to Jesus Christ.
Religion and the Law on the "The Massachusetts School of Law" youtube channel
no picture, only (bad) audio, but intereseting and thoughtful speaches by one Justice and two Professors