Bill drafting attorney warned N.C. lawmaker of ‘legally incorrect’ Defense of Religion Act
RALEIGH — A legislative bill drafting director warned N.C. Rep. Carl Ford of “legally incorrect” statements in a controversial religion resolution filed last week, emails show.
Kory Goldsmith, director of research in the bill drafting division of the N.C. General Assembly, expressed concerns in an email to Ford on March 19, questioning the constitutionality of Ford’s Defense of Religion Act.
“I’m concerned that the attachment makes a number of statements that are legally incorrect,” Goldsmith wrote. “For example, it states that the State of North Carolina does not recognize federal court rulings related to the Establishment Clause. It also states that the Establishment Clause does not apply to states.”
Kings Mountain City Councilman Keith Miller sent the resolution he authored in an email to Rowan County Commission Chairman Jim Sides just days before Miller spoke about it at a commissioners meeting on March 18.
Sides forwarded it to Ford and N.C. Rep. Harry Warren — Rowan County’s House delegates.
Both men ultimately sponsored the ill-fated resolution, but Warren later withdrew support for it.
Goldsmith, in further explaining states’ rights, said in the email to Ford, “The 14th Amendment of the United States prohibits states from making or enforcing any law which abridges the privileges and rights of U.S. citizens. It is the 14th Amendment that makes the 1st Amendment applicable to states. In addition the North Carolina Constitution recognizes the United States Constitution as supreme and any law to the contrary has no binding effect (See Article I, Secs. 3 and 5 of N.C. Constitution).”
In a phone interview Friday, Ford said he wasn’t aware of the email, and he couldn’t be sure if he read it.
Ford said he was aware of concerns posed by Goldsmith, but was trying to get the legislation moving.
“I knew it needed work. I knew it needed changes,” he said. “They get changed in committee. We were up against deadline — boom, let’s do it.”
The email exchange was obtained by the Post in a public records request.
Both local representatives have maintained the resolution was intended to support Rowan County commissioners’ sectarian prayer before meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of three Rowan residents claiming the prayer is unconstitutional. Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis pulled the resolution in a House committee hearing April 4.
Lawmakers were bombarded with emails and phone calls, they said, after national news outlets said Warren and Ford were attempting to establish a state religion.
Less than a week after Sides forwarded the email to legislators — with the brief remark, “What do you two think of this idea?” — records show Ford’s legislative assistant sent the bill to Goldsmith.
“Rep. Ford would like the attached document drafted into a bill,” she wrote. “Please email/call me or Rep. Ford if you have any questions.”
Sides declined to comment, citing the ACLU lawsuit when reached by phone Friday.
At the end of Goldsmith’s response, she added Ford would do well to make the legislation a resolution.
“I’d be happy to discuss this further with you and will certainly draft legislation if you decide you want to proceed,” Goldsmith wrote. “ As a practical matter, this would probably need to be a resolution.”
Goldsmith could not be reached for comment Friday.
Ford said he wasn’t aware the attachment was initially sent as a proposed bill.
“I didn’t even know it was drafted as a bill,” Ford said.
The former county commissioner also said he didn’t recall the email exchange, but remembered a phone conversation Goldsmith had with an assistant.
“She called me and said, ‘We can’t make it a bill but we can make it a resolution,’ ” he said. “She called my legislative assistant. She looked at me and said, ‘This can’t be a bill. It can be a resolution.’ ”
The exchange was later forwarded back to Sides, with a note from Ford’s assistant:
“Rep. Ford wanted me to pass this along to you. This is the response we got from Kory, the director of bill drafting. The Representative will be moving forward with a resolution.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.