Author: Effort will protect rights

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 4, 2013

SALISBURY — A man who said he authored the controversial Rowan County Defense of Religion Act said federal courts are “not constitutionally given any more or less authority” than elected representatives.
Keith Miller, a city councilman from Kings Mountain, spoke to Rowan County commissioners at a heated meeting on March 18 as they considered whether to fight an ACLU lawsuit challenging use of Christian prayers to open public meetings.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Miller said the resolution draft he gave commissioners then is the framework for the resolution filed in the General Assembly this week by two Rowan representatives — a proclamation that some critics say paves the way for an established state religion.
The purpose of the resolution is “simply to protect our rights that the Constitution has given us,” Miller said. He believes federal courts “are effectively judicially amending the Constitution.”
Miller believes the controversy is much needed.
“I really hope what we see come from this is a healthy and vigorous reawakening and it is a government of the people by the people. We have to get much more engaged because we have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders,” he said.
Although not an attorney, Miller said he decided to get involved after reading the 2011 decision of Joyner v. Forsyth County commissioners that ruled sectarian prayer at the start of a government meeting was unconstitutional.
“There’s 200 years of precedent and tradition and it generally serves us very well,” Miller said, “but sometimes we have to remember that legal precedent and legal opinion are just that — opinion.”
The city councilman said he began working on the draft last fall, and the first time he approached an elected board with it was the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.
Miller hopes to have other counties push for similar resolutions, he said, but Rowan County is the only local government to do it so far.
N.C. Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, who filed the resolution, have had some support in the legislature. Reps. Bert Jones of Reidsville, Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson, Allen McNeil of Asheboro, Larry Pittman of Concord, Michele Presnell of Burnsville, Edgar Starnes of Hickory and Chris Whitemire of Roseman penned their endorsement Tuesday.
Reps. Justin Burr of Albemarle, Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount, Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem, Rena Turner of Olin and Phil Shepard of Jacksonville also added co-sponsorship Wednesday.
Miller said state representatives have to get involved to assert states’ rights.
When asked about the absence of 200-plus years of legal precedent, Miller said federal decisions wouldn’t be difficult to overcome.
“I really don’t think it would unwind that much,” he said. “If we realized that everybody should be free to express their relating faith, I don’t think we really have very many problems. What the Rowan County commissioners are doing is standing up and acting like individuals.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.