Under the Dome

Dome: ACLU warns about prayers in legislature

February 3, 2012 

The American Civil Liberties Union N.C. Legal Foundation is making good on its promise to stop the state General Assembly from saying predominantly Christian prayers at the opening of every day's session.

The ACLU on Thursday sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper asking him to come up with a policy that would prevent it.

The civil rights organization said last month that it would be contacting local and state governments throughout North Carolina following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to review an appellate ruling involving Forsyth County's Board of Commissioners. In that case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that sectarian prayer in a government setting was a violation of the First Amendment.

As a result, the ACLU is advising Cooper that the House and Senate practice of praying in the Christian religion a significant majority of the time runs afoul of the court decision. Its letter quotes the court's ruling that "faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal, and the government should not appear to suggest that some faiths have got it wrong and others got it right."

The ACLU also points out that the appellate court ruling requires government to take an active role in diversifying prayers and not just allow "all-comers." Otherwise, the faith of the majority would necessarily predominate. The ACLU says nonsectarian prayers are permitted.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said, "We will share the letter when we receive it with the General Assembly leadership so that legislators are aware of the ACLU's concerns."

Shuler won't seek re-election

U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler's decision not to seek re-election was not an easy one, he said Thursday. But the Waynesville Democrat said he wants to refocus his priorities on his wife and two children.

"I have always said family comes first, and I never intended to be a career politician," he said.

"Last week I spent a lot of time at home with my family discussing the possibility of running for governor of North Carolina. This time of reflection and prayer gave us the opportunity to talk about the best course of action for us as a family moving forward. It was during this time that I reached the decision not to seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012."

Shuler, co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, has represented the mountain communities in Western North Carolina for five years. Speculation arose that he would retire after N.C. Republicans redrew his congressional district to include more Republicans and fewer Democrats. He stood to lose many Democrats living in Asheville based on the new maps.

His name had surfaced as a potential candidate for N.C. governor. He announced earlier this week that he would not join the race.

Running for lt. governor

Saying the "timing is right," Linda Coleman, the state's personnel director, announced her candidacy for lieutenant governor on Thursday.

"My focus will be clearly directed at improving our public schools, strengthening our workforce training programs in our community colleges and making critical investments in our research universities," Coleman said in a statement.

Coleman, 62, served three terms in the state House and is a former chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. In her announcement, she highlighted her work on raising the state's minimum wage and advocating for state employees.

She is the first announced Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor after current officeholder, Walter Dalton, decided to run for governor. Three Republicans are vying for their party's nomination.

Coleman pledged to run an aggressive grassroots campaign and hired Democratic consultant Brad Crone.

cjarvis@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4576

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service