N.C. Lawmakers’ Bumbling Claims about State-Sponsored Religion

April 4, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

Apparently a bit of sanity has surfaced in the North Carolina legislature where a couple of lawmakers introduced a resolution declaring the state could establish an official religion. The Charlotte Observer reports that House Speaker Thom Tillis is saying the chamber will not vote on the resolution.

In this case Joint Resolution 494, which in part declared that the First Amendment does not apply to the states, showcases a couple of lawmakers who are either woefully ignorant of the U.S Constitution and First Amendment jurisprudence or are blatantly provocative.

First, as has been pointed out by a lot people like law school professors, much of the Bill of Rights do apply to the states. Starting in the 1920s federal courts ruled that the Constitution's 14th Amendment applies most of the Bill of Rights to the states. 

Nevertheless, the lawmakers’ resolution states that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which provides for a separation of religion and government, “does not apply to the states, municipalities, or schools.” The resolution also includes sections declaring the Constitution “does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion,” and that the N.C. legislature “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.”

Although the resolution does not specify what religion N.C. would officially recognize, it undoubtedly would be Christianity. The lawmakers pushing the resolution said they were doing so in part to provide a show of support to Rowan County Commissioners who are waging a legal battle to keep using Christian prayers at their public meetings. (The Supreme Court has ruled that if lawmakers feel the need to use prayer during official business, it should be nonsectarian, otherwise they leave themselves open to a First Amendment challenge. The ACLU has lodged a lawsuit against the county commission arguing that its prayer policy violates the separation of government and religion.)

Very likely there are plenty of places for Rowan county citizens and their lawmakers to pray; they’re called houses of worship. So why turn government business into a religious event as well? Likely to appease a Religious Right constituency and alienate everyone else. In this case some Rowan county citizens stood up to say that county officials do indeed have an obligation to adhere to the strictures of the U.S. Constitution.

The state lawmakers’ defiant and ludicrous resolution helped shed light on the continued efforts of some Religious Right zealots to push their religion on as many people as possible. The resolution, however, is also rather laughable. So the N.C. lawmakers should be given a few props for providing some levity.