Republican U.S. Senate candidates (L-R) Thom Tillis, Heather Grant, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris at the WRAL debate on Wednesday.
Republican U.S. Senate candidates (L-R) Thom Tillis, Heather Grant, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris at the WRAL debate on Wednesday.
Republican U.S. Senate candidates (L-R) Thom Tillis, Heather Grant, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris at the WRAL debate on Wednesday.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate defended their faith and its role in public life on Wednesday night at their second of three televised debates in a week’s time.

The second debate, hosted by Raleigh news station WRAL, touched on many of the same issues — the Affordable Care Act, climate change, Common Core education standards — discussed at the first debate on Tuesday evening. And, like the Tuesday debate, the WRAL debate also passed over specific questions on LGBT issues. Two of the candidates — state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Baptist Pastor Mark Harris — played integral roles in passing the state’s 2012 anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. Two other candidates — Dr. Greg Brannon and Army Nurse Corps veteran Heather Grant — have also spoken in favor of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Despite no question on the topic, issues like marriage were discussed briefly when WRAL debate host David Crabtree asked the candidates about their faith.

“In your TV ad, you point out you are a Christian and you’ve been a pastor for a long time,” Crabtree opened, directing the question toward Harris. “In a nation that proclaims separation of church and state, what role, if any, should religion play in this race?”

Harris said he didn’t think religion, “in any particular way,” should play role, but said faith shouldn’t be ignored.

“I do think that every individual as Americans have the privilege to exercise their faith and should not be told that in order to run for office or to bring forth ideas that somehow we’ve to check their belief system at the door when we come in,” Harris said. “Because, as a believer, as a Christian, it’s what I believe that makes me who I am at the end of the day, and you can’t separate the two.”

Tillis was the first to directly address faith and its role in formulating legislation on issues like marriage.

“I think your faith lays the foundation. It lays the foundation for your traditional family values, it lays the foundation for your belief in life, and I think the kinds of conservative values you see represented here on the stage tonight,” Tillis said. “I don’t think you necessarily bring your church to the legislature but your teachings and your life and everything that you’ve grown up and learned from religious life, I think instructs you on everything you do, all the way from the formulation of legislation to the way you interact with people.”

Grant responded that faith was written into the nation’s founding documents.

“It wasn’t about making any one religion better than the other or forcing any idea on one person or another,” she said.

Brannon called “separation of church and state” a “fallacy,” saying it is “found nowhere in our founding documents.”

“Our founders’ Judeo-Christian beliefs built a secular government and in this, in Article 6 of the Constitution, we have no religious test, because as a Christian, Christ would never make you join him, but there’s a view of life, of marriage, of sharing your goods with your neighbor, but that’s an individual choice, not the government down,” Brannon said. “The individual is free to be how they want to be where ever they’re going to be.”

Tillis and Harris were intimately involved in the passage of North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment. Tillis presided over sessions in which the measure was passed and placed on the ballot. Harris is pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and a former president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, two roles he used as an outspoken supporter of pro-amendment organizers with the Vote for Marriage NC referendum committee and the North Carolina Values Coalition. Harris has cited his work on the amendment as an example of his conservative Christian values during the campaign.

The Wednesday WRAL debate followed a Tuesday debate hosted at Davidson College and hosted by The Charlotte ObserverThe News & Observer and Time Warner Cable News. You can watch the Tuesday debate in its entirety online here and watch the WRAL debate online here.

A third and final televised debate will be hosted by UNC-TV on Monday.

Early voting in the May 6 primary begins today.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.