On Tuesday 4/2/13, two Republican North Carolina state representatives introduced a bill that would effectively allow them to declare an official state religion. Since then, word of this bill spread like wildfire across social media outlets and blogs on both sides of the aisle. The sponsors of the proposed legal change are Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), and they’re joined by 11 co-sponsors. Supposedly, this bill is in response to a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU to stop Rowan County commissioners from opening meetings with a Christian prayer. The proposed bill reads:
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.
In essence, North Carolina Republican lawmakers are saying, “We don’t care what the First Amendment or federal case law has to say about freedom of religion. We are sovereign and are going to nullify them.” Proponents of the bill have noted that the First Amendment does not prohibit states from making laws to establish a state religion, and that it only prohibits congress from doing so. Since the Constitution does not explicitly mention states not having the right to establish religion, then by virtue of the 10th Amendment, they can do what they want, right? Well, no.
It seems these NC lawmakers have overlooked the 14th Amendment and its incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states. The freedom against the establishment of religion was later specifically applied to the states in the Supreme Court case of Everson vs. Board of Education in 1947.
So if North Carolina can dismiss federal case law and the First and Fourteenth Amendments, what’s stopping them from restricting the other freedoms outlined in the First Amendment: speech, assembly, press, and petition? After all, those freedoms are guaranteed in the same method that freedom of religion is granted: by the prohibition of congress making laws against them. If such a law was passed in North Carolina, then the state government would have a strong precedent to rely upon where it could further oppress its people and rely upon biblical laws — a complete church/state separation and human rights disaster.
Maybe it’s my optimistic nature that clouds my judgement, but I’d like to think that a bill like this wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of passing into law. But the fact that such a blatantly unconstitutional bill would even be drafted, much less supported by thirteen lawmakers, is frightening and disheartening. Let’s hope that this is just a case of elected Republican officials pandering to their base and seeking reelection by the Christian Right, rather than purposely spitting on the U.S. Constitution.