Separation of church and state is one of the Founding Fathers' most cherished and enduring contributions, establishing that each American has the right to practice his or her chosen religion (or none) without the interference of any government actor.
But language in a new bill before the North Carolina Legislature puts a new spin on that key part of the First Amendment, asserting that the separation applies only to the federal government, not to the states.
Two Rowan County GOP state representatives introduced the bill, dubbed "The Rowan County, North Carolina, Defense of Religion Act of 2013," on Monday, and it is gaining attention as one of the most controversial legislative proposals to emerge this year.
Here's the central argument the lawmakers put forth in the proposed legislation, which is now sponsored by 14 members in the state's House of Representatives:
"SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion," the bill reads. "SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion."
The striking proposal comes as a direct response to a federal lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Rowan County residents who argue that the Rowan County commissioners' practice of engaging in Christian prayer before county meetings is a violation of their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.