Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Some days the news just gives me a headache...

It's getting more and more difficult to tell the real news from The Onion.

No, really. There was this story that ran on The Huffington Post today, reporting how two Republican legislators in North Carolina have filed a bill declaring each state "sovereign", so that states are perfectly within their rights to establish a religion within a state. The claim is that the First Amendment (I don't know how they feel about the other amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, or the amendments that have been ratified since the Bill of Rights was enacted) applies only to the federal government and so the feds can't stop a state from enacting and enforcing laws that are unconstitutional.

The text of the bill, as published by The Huffington Post, 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.

I guess, basically, the two North Carolina lawmakers and the nine other Republicans that are also supporting the bill, are thumbing their noses at the federal government, and at the Supreme Court of the United States specifically, and saying "Neener, neener, neener. You're not the boss of us."


I guess these guys have never heard of a little case called Everson v. Board of Education (1947) 330 US 1, which applied the Establishment Clause - "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" - to the states. The Supreme Court did this via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. I don't know how many of the state legislators supporting this bill are lawyers, but all of them who are need to get themselves back to law school and repeat their constitutional law class. Everson is not an obscure case. In effect, the Supreme Court ruled in that case that, regarding the establishment of religion, the First Amendment is the boss of the states.

Reading the article, my first thought was that either this was a day-late-dollar-short April Fool's Day prank, or that it was a reprint from The Onion. It appears to be real, however, and meant to counter a suit filed recently that seeks to stop county commissioners in one North Carolina county from opening their meetings with prayer.

When you think about it, the whole thing is just silly. The government can't declare an established religion (that's what the Establishment Clause means) for some very good reasons that are rooted in the origins and history of the United States. All this legislative hissy fit is accomplishing is making these gentlemen look petty and ignorant.

On the other hand, as the Huffington Post story points out, North Carolina also already has a law on the books that disqualifies atheists from holding public office. This law has been unenforcible since 1961, when the Supreme Court ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins 367 US 488 that neither the federal government or state governments can require any religious test for public office.

So, silly it may be, but the state of North Carolina has a history of insisting on flouting the law of the land.

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