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North Carolina lawmaker backtracks on push to allow state religion

A North Carolina lawmaker says he regrets any embarrassment caused by a resolution that was proposed – and defeated - this week that would have given the state the right to declare an official religion.

The resolution was filed Monday by two Republican legislators and co-signed by 11 others.

The bill was filed in response to a lawsuit filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which court records show opened 97 percent of its meetings in 2007 with Christian prayers. The ACLU accused the panel of violating the First Amendment by routinely praying to Jesus Christ.

One of the North Carolina bill’s sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren, said the now-dead resolution was poorly written. It declared that states are sovereign from federal oversight and could independently "make laws respecting an establishment of religion."

Warren says he only intended to allow Rowan County officials to continue opening meetings with prayer, not to establish a state religion.

“The commissioners, who deliver the prayers themselves, routinely call on Jesus Christ and refer to other sectarian beliefs during invocations,” the ACLU wrote in a statement.