States’ Rights And Religion: North Carolina Legislators Say U.S. Constitution Doesn’t Apply To Them

North Carolina is one of 24 states where Religious Right operatives, Tea Party troops and other right-leaning folks control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office to boot.

Just when you think the Religious Right forces can’t get any wackier, they up the ante.

Legislators in North Carolina have introduced the “Rowan County Defense of Religion Act,” a bill declaring that all states – and their political subdivisions – are free to make any laws they choose regarding religion. The U.S. Constitution’s church-state separation provisions, they say, apply only to the federal government.

House Joint Resolution 494 asserts that “each state is sovereign and may independently determine how the state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

It declares that “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.”

Yee haw, boys! Cue the playing of “Dixie.” North Carolina is gonna secede again!

This bill was filed on April 1 so this has to be some kind of April Fools' Day joke, right? Or the work of some lone extremist lawmaker whom no one takes seriously. You know, like Michele Bachmann.

Sorry, but it’s not. The measure was introduced by Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) and, according to the Salisbury Post, is cosponsored by seven other Republicans, including House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes (R-Hickory).   (Other signers include Reps. Bert Jones of Reidsville, Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson, Allen McNeil of Asheboro, Larry Pittman of Concord, Michele Presnell of Burnsville and Chris Whitemire of Roseman.)

What has the honorable lawmakers so worked up?

The North Carolina ACLU has sued the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for opening its meetings with sectarian prayers. The civil liberties group is representing three county residents who object to the local government’s preferential treatment for Christianity.

Legislators, on the other hand, apparently see nothing wrong with such blatant bias and introduced their nullification-themed proposal in response.

Catawba College politics Professor Michael Bitzer told the Post it reminded him of the ideology that many Southern states turned to after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating public school integration.

“They basically want to ensure that a long line of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have no validity either here in Rowan County or here in the entire state,” Bitzer said. “They’re basing it on – to put it mildly – discredited legal theory that the states can deny the power of the federal government within their jurisdiction.”

Gary Freeze, a history and politics professor at Catawba College, told the newspaper the bill verged on being “neo-secessionist.”

“It’s almost anti-nationalist,” Freeze said. “It has elements of not being American.”

Will this anti-American bill go anywhere?

Even lead sponsor Warren doesn’t think so. He noted that the bill was referred to the Committee for Rules, Calendar and Operations, where loony bills often go to die.

“I didn’t expect it to go anywhere,” he told the Post. “Quite often bills go there and never come out.”

I wouldn’t be so sure. North Carolina is one of 24 states where Religious Right operatives, Tea Party troops and other right-leaning folks control both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office to boot.

That makes for a potent and often poisonous political brew where anything can happen. Stay tuned.

 

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