Republican state Rep. Michele Presnell of Burnsville, N.C., equated Islamic prayer to terrorism in an email exchange while co-sponsoring House Resolution 494, which seeks to establish a state religion in North Carolina.
"The famed ACLU is telling Rowan County they may not pray before commissioners meetings," Presnell wrote to Britt Kaufmann, a constituent, according to The Charlotte Observer. "We pray in Raleigh before our legislative meetings, U.S. Congress prays in Washington DC, why can they not pray?"
When asked whether that prayer can be addressed to Allah, Presnell said: "No, I do not condone terrorism."
The lawmaker's comments on the American Civil Liberties Union refer to the multiple cases in which the secular organization has tried to block the expression of public prayer, arguing that it can be seen as breaching the separation of church and state. The group has sued Rowan County for praying before commissioner meetings.
Presnell, while defending the religious freedoms of those who wish to keep praying, said immediately after her comments on Islam and terrorism: "We just need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us."
Kaufmann, who identified herself as Christian, then replied: "I am saddened that you make a leap from Allah to terrorism so quickly. If the state sets a precedent of choosing one religion above others, we have to be prepared for any religion to be chosen as the preferential one."
The Republican rep. reportedly concluded the discussion by writing: "No, you are wrong. Have a good day."
According to the Capitol Broadcasting Company, the Council on American-Islamic Relations responded to Presnell's comments by stating: "If the Republican Party hopes to reach out to minority groups, it must clearly and forcefully repudiate such bigoted comments by its representatives."
The News Observer noted that Presnell's stance differs from the primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican, who has "apologized for the resolution's poor wording and how it embarrassed the state."