North Carolina Republicans Want the Right to Establish a State Religion
Just how far to the right have some elected Republicans lurched? I’ve already written about bills to give states the right to nullify federal laws that they don’t like (The Stupid Just Keeps Getting More and More Stoopid (part 1)) or to require federal agents to get permission from local sheriffs before executing on federal warrants or making arrests for federal crimes (The Stupid Just Keeps Getting More and More Stoopid (part 2)). I’ve written to explain to an idiotic Congressman that yes, indeed, the Supreme Court has the power to decide what is — and isn’t —constitutional (Yes, Mr. (Idiot) Congressman, SCOTUS Does Decide if Laws Are Constitutional). I’ve written about a Missouri bill to make it a felony to introduce gun control legislation and a Montana bill to grant corporations the right to vote (More of the Stoopid). I even had to write about a bill to call for an Article V constitutional convention (The Perils of an Article V Convention). And those bills just deal with the core issues of how our governmental systems work, not with other far right issues like a requirement for multiple transvaginal ultrasounds, required recitation by students of The Lord’s Prayer (Republicans Want to Require Indiana Students to Recite The Lord’s Prayer (Redux)), paranoia of Agenda 21 (Just How Paranoid Are Some Indiana Legislators? Beware the Agenda 21 Boogeyman!) or sharia law, and other hot button targets of the right and its Republican representatives.
But now some North Carolina Republicans have decided to go yet a step further, a feat that seemed almost impossible. For them, it’s not enough to suggest that the state has the right to nullify laws that a majority of legislators don’t like (e.g., The Affordable Care Act/Obamacare). Nope. Not good enough. No, these Republicans want to undo nearly one hundred years of American constitutional jurisprudence and provide that the incorporation doctrine is barred by the Tenth Amendment. And they want to make clear that the Supreme Court does not get to decide what is and is not constitutional.
Let me parse that legal mumbo jumbo a bit. The incorporation doctrine is the notion that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution essentially means that most of the Bill of Rights applies not just to Congress but to the states as well. The Tenth Amendment, by contrast, says that rights not specifically given to the federal government are reserved for the states. However, you’ll note that the 14th Amendment was ratified long after the Tenth Amendment. Moreover, courts have long held that the powers that are granted to Congress in the Constitution tend to be very broad, thus bringing very few things within the limitation of the Tenth Amendment.
Anyway, why, you might ask, do these North Carolina Republicans want to undo the incorporation doctrine and the Supreme Court’s role in determining the constitutionality of laws? Well that, my friends, is easy. They want to undo all that jurisprudence and the very framework upon which it is built — so that North Carolina can have its own state religion.
You read that right.
Here are the operative provisions of North Carolina Joint House Resolution 494 (the “Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013):
SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
Apparently, some nasty non-Christians (or perhaps “faux Christians” that believe in the separation of church and state) complained via the ACLU about the Rowan County Board of Commissioners using an overtly sectarian prayer (either referring to G-d as “the Father” or offering the prayer “in Jesus’ name”) to open sessions. The Board apparently views these prayers as “time honored traditions”. I’m wondering whether, after the conclusion of its meetings, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners goes outside to engage in the “time honored tradition” of lynching a nigger* or maybe these days it’s smearing pig’s blood on a Muslim. Good “traditional” fun, I’m told…
Now we probably shouldn’t really be surprised that a bill like this would come from North Carolina; after all, Article VI Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution disqualifies from public office anyone “who shall deny the being of Almighty God” (even though that provision was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)). Nevertheless, just think about this proposed legislation for a minute. Some North Carolina legislators (including House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes) want to give their state the right to establish a state religion, perhaps the “Evangelical Church of North Carolina”. What would the establishment of a state religion mean, especially for those who don’t profess to follow that religion? Could North Carolina discriminate against those who aren’t members of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina (for example, different tax rates based on membership in the Church)? Could the public schools be required to teach the doctrine of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina or be prohibited from teaching “theories” that aren’t an accepted part of that doctrine (you know, like evolution, global warming, respect for diversity, gravity)? Could public school students be required to recite a daily prayer in accordance with the proper liturgy of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina? Could laws that might otherwise be improper be upheld on the basis of their fidelity to the doctrine of the Evangelical Church of North Carolina (for example, let’s say that the teachings of the Church held that inter-racial marriages were abomination or that good, G-d-fearin’ white folk shouldn’t have to hire them uppity blacks ifn they don’t wanna)?
As I’ve written posts for this blog over the last few years, I’ve been sorely tempted on many an occasion to refer to some of these far right ideologues as the “American Taliban”. For the most part, I think that I’ve managed to avoid using that highly charged phrase or comparison. But when I read about bills like this one, I have a hard time holding back from making that comparison. The Taliban are a group of religious fundamentalists that believe that they have the right or moral obligation to be sure that everyone else adheres to the their religious-based worldview. And they use violence to accomplish that. More and more often, especially with bills like this one or some of the anti-abortion legislation, the distinction between the efforts of the American right to impose their often religious-based worldview upon the rest of us differs from the Taliban only in that (so far) they haven’t resorted to violence (though threats of violence such as “Second Amendment remedies” have certainly become a part of the script).
It’s time for moderate Republicans, or perhaps Republicans who care primarily about fiscal issues and less about social issues, to recognize what their party has become … and do something about it. Otherwise, we’re going to see more and more of these sorts of legislative proposals that will drive bigger and bigger wedges between Americans and make these United States seem ever less united and more a collection of red states and blue states with fundamentally different notions of what is right, what is fair, and what is constitutional. Kind of like the situation in 1861…
Note: I wrote this post on Thursday, but didn’t have a chance to proofread and publish it then. In the hours that followed, North Carolina’s Speaker of the House “killed” the bill. That, of course, is good news. Nevertheless, I think the fact that bills like this are being proposed, let alone being co-sponsored by numerous legislators — including legislative leaders — is a truly worrying development. Thankfully, there appear to be some Republican legislators who still have a sense of … oh, I don’t know … reality? … about them (though it may be that the Speaker killed the bill, not out of a sense of what is right, but because he is considering a run for the United States Senate against a Democratic incumbent). But if the Republican party continues to move further and further to the right, how much longer will that be true?
*Yes, I used that highly offensive term on purpose, and no, I don’t know if Rowan County, North Carolina, has a history of racism or religious bigotry. But I wanted to find the easiest way to directly attack the implied discrimination or bigotry that I perceive when I see elected officials using words like “tradition” to explain away conduct that is simply wrong. And no, I don’t condone the use of racist or bigoted words like that.