Carolina Blues

Last month, North Carolina legislators, in one of the more explicit threats to church-state separation in recent memory, proposed HJR 494, which asserted that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to them.

That was just the beginning. Since then, the North Carolina legislature has introduced a plethora of bills that jeopardize religious freedom for all North Carolinians:

School Vouchers: H 944 would create a school voucher program that funnels taxpayer money to primarily religious schools. The House Committee on Education is holding a hearing on this bill on Tuesday, May 28th. If you live in North Carolina, contact your Representatives! H 269 is another voucher bill, but it is limited to students with special needs. This bill passed in the House and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Anti-Sharia: H 695 would prohibit the application of “foreign laws” in North Carolina courts. Although this bill never mentions Sharia law specifically, this bill is motivated by anti-Muslim animus and a manufactured fear that Sharia Law is being implemented in the United States and North Carolina. This bill has passed in the House and now awaits action in the Senate.

Religious Discrimination in Healthcare: H 730 would allow the religious beliefs of employers, doctors, and other healthcare workers to limit women’s access to birth control. This bill directly contradicts Obama’s contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to provide women with insurance coverage for contraceptives. The introduction of this bill led North Carolina women to stage a Mad Men themed protest, implying this backwards policy has the oppressive aura of the 1960s. The bill passed in the House and is awaiting action the Senate.

Student Group Discrimination: H 735  would exempt student groups at public universities and community colleges from following nondiscrimination policies. This exemption would require institutes of higher education to recognize and fund religious groups even if they discriminate against fellow students based on religion. Both this bill and its counterpart, S 719, have each passed in one chamber.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act: H 751 claims to protect religious freedom but, in practice, robs disadvantaged populations of their civil rights protections. It could allow people to more easily trump anti-discrimination and public safety laws in the name of religion, turning religion into an excuse to discriminate. HB 751 has already passed in the House Judiciary Committee.

School Prayer: S 370 claims to “establish respect for student prayer” in public schools, and has already passed in the Senate. Unfortunately, the bill is both unnecessary and unconstitutional. Students already have the right to engage in voluntary, student-initiated prayer in public schools as long as it is not coercive or disruptive. The bill crosses the line when it clarifies that school employees may also participate in religious activities on school grounds, leading to unconstitutional school sponsorship of religion.

Biblical Instruction: Two bills have been introduced that promote religious teachings in public schools. S 138 would authorize local school boards to offer Bible Study Elective courses to high school students. Although this bill purports to offer biblical instruction without favoring a particular religion, in reality, schools and teachers often have difficulty implementing this type of class in a constitutionally neutral manner.  Also, S 404 would create a time-release program that would allow students to earn credit at public schools for religious instruction off-campus. Both bills are currently sitting in committees in the Senate.

Week of Prayer: HJR 599 supported the Governor’s proclamation for an official “Week of Prayer” for North Carolina. This unnecessary resolution was passed into law at the end of April.

Americans United will continue to work against these threats to religious freedom in North Carolina and the rest of the country. To take a stand against these and other pieces of legislation, check out or State Action Center, or sign up to receive our State Action Alerts here.