Wednesday, April 03, 2013

North Carolina Republicans launch formal assault on the Constitution, seeking establishment of state religion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Just in case you weren't quite sure Republicans are the party of Christian theocracy:

A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.

The legislation grew out of a dispute between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.

Overtly Christian prayers at government meetings are not rare in North Carolina. Since the Republican takeover in 2011, the state Senate chaplain has offered an explicitly Christian invocation virtually every day of session, despite the fact that some senators are not Christian.

The First Amendment initially prohibited Congress from establishing a state religion at the federal level, but as a result of Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and other subsequent case law the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has come to apply to the Establishment Clause of the First, meaning that the prohibition against establishing a state religion applies not just federally but to the states as well. (It's called "Incorporation.") And there hasn't been a state religion since 1833 (Massachusetts).

The North Carolina proposal ignores all of this:

"The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people," the bill states.

"Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion," it states.

This is the "Nullification" argument that states' rights conservatives have frequently used to try to circumvent federal law, including with respect to slavery. Essentially, it posits the supremacy of the Tenth Amendment, and of course of the states themselves.

But it has never been legally upheld. Indeed, it has repeatedly been rejected, including by the Supreme Court, which has correctly pointed to primacy of the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution: Federal law is superior to state law. Period.

Not that this has stopped Republicans from going there again and again -- and from failing again and again. 

And this too shall fail. It's an "originalist" argument, but one that ignores the nuanced views of the Founders and everything that has happened since. And there's just no way the courts will allow it. (And one suspects that whatever their personal views there are many other Republicans who won't go along with it.)

But these Republicans, like so many of their partisans, have a radical right-wing agenda they seek to impose, and it includes Christian theocracy. Which leaves them defecating all over the Constitution, American history, and pretty much everything the United States has come to stand for.

In other words, it's just more of the same from the GOP.

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