The United States Constitution is a subjective document written by a bunch of men with wigs and wooden teeth and fancy pants in the 18th century who couldn’t possibly have foreseen the shape our modern world would take. So, when they wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” right there in the First Amendment, they didn’t mean to make it totally impossible to establish a state religion.
At least, that’s the logic of Edgar Starnes, the Majority Leader in the North Carolina General Assembly, who is backing a resolution that would allow North Carolina to declare an official state religion. A religion like, for example, Christianity. The bill argues that although the First Amendment is a thing that exists, the Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional.” Which means that North Carolina citizens like Petey Pablo and Michael Jordan and their representatives can interpret the constitution however they see fit. If they want to make Christianity the law of the land, or institute the death penalty for adulterers, they totally can, according to them.
Like Michael Jordan, I am from North Carolina, and from experience, I know that Christianity is already pretty much an unofficial state religion. The place is crawling with Bibles. As of 2001, 79 percent of North Carolinians were Christians, and new churches are popping up all over the place. My mother even helped found one of them two years ago. The call for giving North Carolina an official religion is similar to the argument made by a bunch of other people with too much time on their hands who want the United States to recognize English as its official language. Eighty percent of US citizens are native English speakers, so why bother dealing with a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense to make it official?
As it turns out, the reason Harry Warren and Carl Ford, the representatives from Rowan County who filed the bill, want to establish an official religion is that the ACLU accused the Board of Commissioners in Rowan County of starting “97 percent of all board meetings” with a Christian prayer. So essentially, these guys spent some of their valuable time as lawmakers writing a blatantly unconstitutional law that will never pass just to be dicks to the ACLU. But wait, there’s more—according to them:
“… Rowan County, North Carolina asserts that the protections afforded to citizens of the United States under the First Amendment are not in any way to be abridged when such citizens become government actors by virtue of their appointment, election, contract, employment, or otherwise engagement.”
It’s true that Warren, Ford, and all the other elected officials in North Carolina are protected by the First Amendment whether they’re at home, in church, filling their cabinets with America swag before making a Tea Party video, AND while they are at work. The only thing that the ACLU is asking them to do is to not pray on government property while doing government business, since the government isn’t supposed to be associated with any religion.
To make their point, the representatives are relying on the Tenth Amendment, which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Warren and Ford and the other Republicans sponsoring the bill squinted real hard and decided that meant they had the right to say the First Amendment is null and void, and declare an official state religion in North Carolina. It’s not a new argument, as pointed out by WRAL: “The Tenth Amendment argument, also known as ‘nullification,’ has been tried unsuccessfully by states for more than a century to defy everything from the Emancipation Proclamation of the Civil War to President Obama's health care reforms to gun control.”
As the Atlantic Wire notes, this bill is going to fail. On the off chance that it passes, the federal courts will overturn it, laugh in the faces of Warren and Ford, then maybe give them a swirly. What the bill will do, however, is set back the reputation of North Carolinians yet again, and give the rest of the country another reason to point and laugh at the backwoods religious nuts who live there. And that’s unfortunate, because while the state is overrun with Christians, most of the ones I’ve met and grew up with don’t subscribe to the extreme ideology that drives people to draft bills like this one. The Republicans supporting this bill are part of a new breed, rabid and unwilling to compromise with anyone who doesn’t see things exactly as they do. While those Christian extremists (and that’s exactly what they are) are a minority, they make a hell of a lot more noise than their more moderate counterparts, which puts all Christians at risk of looking like a bunch of raving lunatics.
UPDATE: And the bill has failed.
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