A group of Republican legislators in North Carolina have submitted a bill that would declare that the Establishment Clause does not apply to state and local actions and therefore they are free to establish an official state religion if they so choose. I really wish I was kidding. HJR 494 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.
Think about the many dangerous results from this. First of all, Article VI, Section 8 of the North Carolina state constitution forbids “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God” from holding public office. Since 1961, the enforcement of that provision has been forbidden by the courts on the basis of the First Amendment. And even if the state did not declare an official state religion, schools could then begin requiring students to pray every day again, or read the Bible, or learn creationism instead of evolution. The possible violations are staggering.
Now the good news: This would be struck down by the courts in about a millisecond. And even with the current configuration of the Supreme Court, the result would likely be an 8-1 ruling overturning the law. Only Clarence Thomas has ever taken the position that the Establishment Clause did not apply to the states and no one else on the court, even Scalia, has ever taken that position seriously.
The Republican leader of the House says this law will not get a vote, but so what. There are 12 sponsors of this bill, for crying out loud. If I lived in North Carolina, I’d be giving them a piece of my mind and starting recall petitions.
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