Court rulings on prayer, suits filed against the state’s marriage amendment, and a community’s battle to keep out a planned casino are among the issues garnering the attention of the Christian Action League (CAL) this year, even as the conservative, public-policy organization lobbies lawmakers to engage legislative issues from a biblical worldview.
“Last year was a phenomenal year in the General Assembly with the passage of laws regarding abortion clinics, human trafficking and more,” said Mark Creech, the League’s executive director.
“We were also able to hold back a gaming nights bill, a bill to legalize and tax video sweepstakes, and a Sunday hunting bill, among others in 2013. This year – the year of the short session – has seen some important legislation, but we’ve also spent a great deal of time monitoring and addressing issues in the courts and communities.”
The League joined other conservative Tar Heel organizations in May at a rally on the Capitol lawn in Raleigh to celebrate the second anniversary of the state’s Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA), even as the law faces a growing number of legal challenges. The third lawsuit attacking the MPA, that legally defines marriage as between one man and one woman in North Carolina, was filed in late April by a dozen clergy members, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and several homosexual couples.
They erroneously claim the MPA violates the religious liberty of pastors who want to perform gay marriage ceremonies. Earlier in April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit meant to create undue sympathy for lesbian couples that have children with medical issues.
These couples were wed in other states where same-sex marriage is legal, but now live in North Carolina and demand the state recognize their unions.
North Carolina General Assembly photo
North Carolina legislators meet at the North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh.
They argue their children cannot get the medical treatment needed unless they receive marriage benefits. These two legal actions join another egregious lawsuit by the ACLU that was filed in July 2013 in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling negating a portion of the national Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
This case challenges North Carolina’s adoption laws, which only allow for married or single individuals to adopt, not unmarried pairs. Same-sex couples are demanding they be able to adopt one another’s children via a so-called “second parent” adoption.
Complicating the issue in North Carolina is Attorney General Roy Cooper’s outspoken support for same-sex marriage and concerns about whether he will defend the state’s MPA.
At this point, Cooper has sought to delay these legal challenges until after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Virginia’s marriage protection amendment, a ruling that would impact North Carolina’s MPA.
“We know North Carolina has been in the crosshairs of same-sex marriage activists for several years, which is why it was important for voters to amend our state’s constitution to shore up our longstanding marriage statutes,” said Creech.
“Though not surprising, the lawsuits against the marriage amendment take time to analyze and report on, because we want to ensure Christians across the state understand what’s at stake by having clear and accurate information.”
He said CAL has also kept an eye on pro-life causes such as efforts to allow a Choose Life license plate in the state, a push that was derailed in February when a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the plates unconstitutional.
“We continue to urge the state to appeal this verdict to the full appeals court,” said Creech.
A legal decision that believers can celebrate is the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 5 ruling that prayer at the start of a government meeting does not violate the Constitution.
The case, which originated in Greece, N.Y., was very similar to the Forsyth County battle over pre-meeting invocations. Based on the court’s decision CAL urged boards across the state that dropped the prayers for fear of litigation to reinstitute them.
Almost immediately after the SCOTUS ruling, the Forsyth County commissioners and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) petitioned state courts to overturn the erroneous judgment set forth in the Forsyth case, a request that is pending.
Also yet to be determined is whether the federal government will place 16 acres just off I-85 in Cleveland County into trust for a Catawba Indian casino complex. CAL has worked alongside the Kings Mountain Awareness Group (KMAG) to fight this attempt to bring another casino and potentially thousands more gambling addicts to the state. More than 100 lawmakers, in addition to the governor, have gone on record in opposition to the plan, but economic development officials in Cleveland County continue to endorse the tribe’s promise of jobs.
“CAL opposes any expansion of gambling. A huge complex like the one being proposed by an out-of-state tribe is not just arguably illegal according to federal law, but also morally unacceptable. No doubt it would create some jobs for the area, but at the same time it would create numerous problem gamblers and take money from other sectors of the economy,” said Creech.
“We are thrilled to support KMAG’s efforts to educate their local officials on the bigger picture, not just the image created by gambling promoters. Our partnership with them is building momentum against the proposed casino.”
Beyond the courts and community issues, CAL continues to bring a Christian worldview to bear on the political process.
“The nature of the short session – a relatively brief gathering for lawmakers during which they must pass a budget – always results in fewer bills being considered, and 2014 has been no exception,” Creech said.
“With that said, we have still been extremely busy researching the bills that were brought to the table, like pushing for lawmakers to nix a plan to tie teacher pay raises to lottery funds, dealing with alcohol measures abusively tucked into regulatory bills, promoting religious freedom bills and monitoring a number of other proposals heard in committee.”
He cited the success of two religious liberty bills, both of which deal with education, as cause for much celebration.
“One bill clarifies the rights of students and teachers in public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, while the other addresses the freedoms that student organizations have on our university campuses,” Creech said.
“These are not new liberties, but because of the growing hostility toward religion, more specifically the Christian religion, in the public square, it has become necessary to spell out what used to be obvious. Thankfully, our lawmakers are willing to put forward this kind of clarifying legislation.”
Creech said CAL is also dealing with some alcohol bills this session.
“Alcohol control has always been a signature issue for us,” he said.
“Numerous bills regarding alcohol have been introduced, as there is always a push from the industry to dangerously grow sales, but we’ve narrowed our focus to just a handful this session that we feel should be addressed to maintain public health and safety,” he said.
The following is a list of bills CAL views as significant during the short session:
S 719 – Student Organizations/Rights and Recognition: This new law will ensure that student organizations at North Carolina’s public colleges and universities will be able to determine their own core missions, choose leaders, and settle internal disputes without fear that administrators who oppose their causes will shut them down. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and sent to the governor on June 20.
S 370 – Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity: Seeking to clarify that neither students nor school personnel shed their First Amendment freedoms at the school house door, lawmakers passed this law which highlights that religious speech should be treated no differently from non-religious speech in the public schools. It affirms that students can openly discuss faith-related issues or reference their religion via classroom or homework assignments without fear of being given a lower grade. It also solidifies students’ rights to pray and to assemble for religious reasons, affirming that a faith-based club should have access to the same facilities and benefits as secular groups. Additionally, the law includes a grievance process for students who believe their rights have been violated. CAL supported and advocated for this legislation, which passed both the North Carolina House and Senate and was signed by the governor into law on June 19.
H 842 – Study of Spirituous Liquor Sales-Distillery: This bill was written to study the impact of allowing distilleries in the state to sell their spirituous liquor products after patrons have participated in a tour of their establishments, but industry lobbyists are pushing lawmakers to skip the study and simply allow distilleries to start selling their products onsite. Such a measure would set a dangerous precedent and create a slippery slope by allowing for the sale of liquor outside ABC stores at private businesses, a practice that would also undermine local option alcohol referenda and the ABC system’s role of control. CAL continues to oppose this measure, which resides in the Senate Rules Committee. There remains concern, however, the bill might move before the end of session.
H 1156 – Spirituous Liquor Tastings/City of Asheville: Although this proposal may sound limited in scope, the bill, which would allow up to three liquor tasting events per week at Asheville area ABC stores, signals an egregious paradigm shift in the function of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It creates a partnership between ABC stores and the industry in pursuit of profits, rather than keeping the focus on regulation.
CAL has strongly expressed its opposition to this measure, arguing ABC stores cannot serve two masters – they cannot be about “control” and the pursuit of “profit” at the same time. On the day of the writing of this article, sponsors of the measure pulled the bill from consideration for lack of support.
Other legislation and matters of public-policy were addressed by CAL this year.
“Nevertheless this report,” said Creech, “seeks to comprehensively speak to primary concerns and their impact upon the moral climate of our great state and nation.”
For weekly information about matters of public-policy in N.C. from a Christian worldview, go to www.christianactionleague.org. Look in the upper right margin for, “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You,” and sign-up for the CAL’s weekly newsletter, “The CAL Insider.”