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Posted on July 19, 2021

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A Nash County state lawmaker is pushing back against accusations that he tried to silence a man’s free speech over proposed legislation to ban promotion of critical race theory in North Carolina public schools.

Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, serves as pastor of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount. In a July 14 tweet, he questioned the Christianity of legislation to stymie academic discussion of critical race theory, which Encyclopedia Britannica defines as an intellectual movement teaching that race is not a natural human distinction, but a socially constructed and culturally invented category used to oppress and exploit people of color.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, has introduced legislation to prevent promotion of critical race theory in public schools. He said children should be taught about North Carolina’s ugly past, but they shouldn’t be forced to adopt an ideology that attacks the foundations of order.

State Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, issued a Thursday press release — forwarded by Nash County GOP Chairman Mark Edwards — claiming Gailliard as an elected official publicly targeted a private citizen over his beliefs and tattled to that citizen’s church leader. Hise accused Gailliard of tagging the private citizen’s pastor in a “brazen effort to silence the citizen’s speech.”

“Rep. Gailliard, an elected government official, tattled to a private citizen’s church leader because Rep. Gailliard views that citizen’s thoughts as unacceptable. This is deeply, deeply inappropriate and should be yet another alarm bell for people concerned about this ascendant doctrine in American culture and politics,” Hise said in the release.

Gailliard told The Enterprise on Saturday that he views the proposed legislation to be anti-education, anti-American, anti-freedom and anti-Christian.

“As a pastor to one of the largest conservative churches in our state, I replied to a tweet from a person who identified as a member of Summit Church,” Gailliard said. “Summit Church is pastored by the outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear who has urged the denomination and his church to ‘stand with people of color against the struggle of racism.’ Because CRT has nearly split the SBC, it is reasonable to raise objections in the public space as pastor to pastor.”

Gailliard said Hise attempted to manipulate his followers by purposely neglecting to mention in his statement that Gailliard is a pastor.

“My tweet was in the context of a theological debate and not a political one,” Gailliard said. “Fundamental to our faith is the notion of the total depravity of humanity. To promote legislation that censors the ability to discuss historical proof of our depravity within public institutions serves to both perpetuate the systemic injustices that have been longstanding in our nation and to limit any potential hope for reconciliation and restoration.”

Gailliard said that as a Christian, he is called to promote harmonious relationships, to treat everyone with dignity and respect, to love and forgive and to seek justice.

“The Bible has a lot to say about diversity and inclusion and outright condemns discrimination,” Gailliard said. “When legislators promote policies to systematize the very opposite of these Christian principles and others join in that effort, I have a responsibility to share my disagreement. So, this was not about a ‘Democratic legislator targeting a private citizen’ as Sen. Hise stated in his dog whistling, fear-promoting rant, but rather about a megachurch pastor serving as a public theologian.

“The irony is Sen. Hise’s statement served to do exactly what he accused me of — to silence my beliefs. So, the (press release) headline should have read, ‘Republican state senator seeks to strip First Amendment rights from local church pastor.’”

Hise, a six-term senator, serves as the Senate’s deputy president pro tempore. His District 47 covers Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties. He lives in Spruce Pine.

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