N.C. Legislative Chapel Sparks Controversy

A state senator’s order removing Christian literature and symbols from the North Carolina General Assembly’s nondenominational chapel was quickly overturned after other lawmakers complained.

In late January, Democratic State Sen. Tony Rand, head of the Senate Rules Committee, which shares oversight of the chapel with a House committee, had staffers remove the religious materials from the chapel because it is supposed to serve all faiths, The News & Observer, a Raleigh daily, reported.

Rand’s order was quickly reversed by the state Senate’s majority leader, who is also a Democrat. The Senate leader, Marc Basnight, cited Republican lawmakers complaints in reversing Rand’s order.

“The cross and Bible are going back in the chapel,” Basnight’s chief of staff said on Feb. 3.

Rand told The New & Observer that lawmakers using the chapel should be welcome to bring their worship materials into the chapel, but should take them with them when they leave.

“If they want to bring it to their services, they’re welcome to do that,” Rand said. “It should retain its nondenominational character. It’s not a church. It’s a public place for whoever wants to communicate with one’s maker.”

The newspaper agreed with Rand in a Feb. 7 editorial, noting that in recent years, some lawmakers started holding weekly Christian services in the chapel and leaving behind their religious literature and symbols.

“Most constitutional scholars probably would agree with Rand that Christian symbols permanently housed in the chapel imply that it is a Christian chapel,” the editorial states. “And that, in turn, violates the separation of church and state.”