North Carolina Republicans introduce bill to outlaw Baptist churches and establish N.C. Staatskirche

Yes, really.

Republican Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford may not realize that outlawing Baptist churches is among the things their bill would do, but it is one of the many, many consequences they don’t understand of their proposal to establish an official state religion in North Carolina. (These are not smart men. Bullies never are.)

This is an actual proposal. It was introduced by two Republican state legislators in North Carolina and now has 11 Republican cosponsors in the state House of Representatives, including party leadership.

Yes, this bill would clearly violate the First Amendment prohibition against religious establishment. That’s deliberate. The proposal is not so much un-constitutional as it is anti-constitutional — it’s another instance of the Party of Calhoun attempting “nullification.”

Here’s a summary from local news reporter Laura Leslie in Raleigh, “Proposal would allow state religion in North Carolina“:

A resolution 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 resolution 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.

This will be the official Southern Baptist baptistry, for baptizing all infants born into the official Southern Baptist Church of North Carolina.

… House Joint Resolution 494, filed by Republican Rowan County Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, would refuse to acknowledge the force of any judicial ruling on prayer in North Carolina – or indeed on any Constitutional topic:

“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 resolution 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.

The Tenth Amendment argument, also known as “nullification,” has been tried unsuccessfully by states for more than a century to defy federal laws and judicial rulings from the Civil War period to President Obama’s health care reforms to gun control.

The resolution goes on to say:

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.

Eleven House Republicans have signed on to sponsor the resolution, including Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, and Budget Chairman Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

Erin McClam of NBC News focuses on the bill’s hostility to the Constitution, “First Amendment doesn’t apply here: N.C. lawmakers push bill for state religion“:

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced a bill declaring that the state has the power to establish an official religion — a direct challenge to the First Amendment.

One professor of politics called the measure “the verge of being neo-secessionist,” and another said it was reminiscent of how Southern states objected to the Supreme Court’s 1954 integration of public schools.

… The North Carolina ACLU chapter said in a statement Tuesday that the sponsors of the bill “fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principle of the separation of powers that dates back to the founding of this country.”

North Carolina scholars also cast doubt on the bill.

“It has elements of not being American,” Gary Freeze, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, told The Salisbury Post. “I think it goes far beyond religion and frankly doesn’t have a lot to do with North Carolina or tradition.”

Another professor at the college, Michael Bitzer, told the newspaper that the bill is based on discredited legal theory that the states can declare themselves exempt from federal law.

“We saw this in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education,” he said, referencing the integration ruling. “The belief is that the states hold more power than the federal government. If the federal government does something, the states can simply ignore it.”

Just curious, but has anyone ever attempted to invoke this right to “nullification” for any cause that was not morally odious? I mean, the idea started with slave-owners. Then it was tried again by segregationists. Now it’s being tried by sectarian bigots.

This makes the idea useful as a kind of red flashing warning sign. Whenever you hear someone speak favorably of nullification, you can conclude that they hate the Constitution and that they hate some other group of people. That’s useful to know.

Let me explain what I said above about this bill outlawing Baptist churches. As the name suggests, the key distinctive identifier of Baptist churches is their approach to baptism. Baptists practice believer’s baptism — based on a person’s profession of faith or, in other words, based on a person’s free choice. That free choice requires the religious liberty that can only exist with the separation of church and state. Establish an official state religion and you effectively criminalize — or, at best, marginalize — anyone who practices believer’s baptism.

(It’s no coincidence that Southern Baptist enthusiasm for sectarian government has accompanied the Southern Baptist enthusiasm for a Neo-Reformed theology that rejects both the idea of a believer’s church and the idea of the separation of church and state. Max Weber explained all this nearly a century before Al Mohler began demonstrating it.)

But while the theological implications of this North Carolina Republican plan are disturbing, this attempt to establish official sectarian hegemony isn’t mainly a religious effort at all. As Bruce Garrett noted yesterday, “This Really Isn’t About God“:

Arguments about religion are usually arguments about Who’s In Charge rather than arguments about religion. Same thing with arguments about Intrusive Government. Reverence allegedly paid to God is actually directed at the Tribe, in whose name God serves. Figure they’ll be holding a conclave down there somewhere in the old confederacy to elect the first Baptist pope any day now.

I think that’s right. This is about power. To the extent that it’s about religion at all, it’s about how religion can be used to attain and maintain power.

The only alternative to such power-struggles disguised as religion — the only way to keep religion from being consumed by and reduced to such power-struggles — is the separation of church and state.

One more point: If government is not secular, then it must be sectarian. The Republicans of North Carolina have not yet told us which sect they would elevate and establish as the official staatskirche. But they will have to pick one. It won’t do to attempt some broad, generic designation of “Christian” or even of “Protestant.” It will have to be specific.

Rep. Harry Warren is a Methodist. Rep. Carl Ford runs a Baptist radio station. If North Carolina follows their lead and abandons secular government, then at least one of their sects must bow to another. Since an established Baptist Church is an oxymoron, I suppose Warren’s Methodism has the upper hand. I wonder what Methodist Sharia would even look like?


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  • Good golly. I love my Methodism, but we would be a disaster as an official religion of anywhere, especially if that required running anything. At the last general conference we had an argument over whether or not we were arguing over gay rights (for the record, we ARE, and I’m firmly in support of the side that gives me rights as a gay Methodist), and the “nope, not arguing” faction inexplicably won.

    (Also, first? Cool, and I’m new around here and everything!)

  • DN

    “I wonder what Methodist Sharia would even look like?”

    Thou must sing “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”?

    Thou must bring a dish to share for potluck?

  • I wonder if any journalist down there has thought to ask one of the two men which sect they think should be established?

  • “Seek ye first the kingdom of God… and then seek ye second the donuts.”

  • JustoneK

    These loosely allied states of mercia…

  • Becca Stareyes

    One thing that strikes me is that as long as the would-be theocrats aren’t getting what they want, it’s a lot easier to pretend that you’re friends with other religious movements. You’re Catholic? Sure, we can ignore the Reformation in the name of abortion and homosexuality. LDS? Well, you hate the right people, so that’s okay by me. Orthodox Jew? Sure, that makes us look like we mean it when we say ‘Judeo-Christian’.

    These groups conveniently forget that not long ago, they were fighting for separation of church and state, because it was used as a bludgeon against anyone not the right sect, not just against atheists, Muslims, pagans and general ‘foreign religions’… or that the tables could turn again once the theocrats get their ‘Judeo-Christian values’ in place. Suddenly things like papal infallibility, position on Jesus, baptism and Joseph Smith might matter again.

  • We promise not to kill you with sheep.

    (Running joke.)

  • hidden_urchin

    Someone needs to ask them both when they’re together and then post the results to YouTube so we can all enjoy it.

    Anyway, I’m just happy it’s not my state being regressive this time. I get tired of apologizing.

  • You know, I played through Bioshock Infinite lately, and I feel like I see some of this in its setting of Columbia. A floating city, built in America but no longer part of the union, rejecting a lot of the things that came out of the Reconstruction (such as the end of slavery.) They are a theocratic society, which has replaced worshiping a misrepresented Jesus with misrepresented Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. In their words, “No one comes to Columbia but through baptism.” In fact, their “immigration terminal” if you can call it that is a huge chapel, full of ankle-deep baptismal water, with a choir singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” in the background.

    They could not create the kind of society that they wanted in America (despite ostensibly loving it,) so they left it to create their own.

  • Lunch Meat

    Especially since we’re already arguing about who gets to define things that can be both religious and legal. If one religion’s understanding of the definition of marriage gets to be put into law, what’s to prevent the Church of Christ from banning baptism by sprinkling, of babies, or without the “correct” words?

  • histrogeek

    To answer Fred’s question, “has anyone ever attempted to invoke this right to “nullification” for any cause that was not morally odious?”

    Yes, once sort of, when the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were passed opposing the Alien and Sedition Laws in 1798. There the two states were on the side of free speech and immigrant rights. Circumstances were a bit odd there because the doctrine of judicial review hadn’t been developed, so Jefferson (who wrote the Kentucky Resolution) and Madison (governor of Virginia at the time) were looking for someway to overturn obviously unconstitutional laws.

    There is question about whether the 1828 Tariff Crisis was really about the tariff (or if the tariff itself was so bad) or a stand-in for slavery as a way of unifying the South against the federal government. I pretty much agree with the latter, but the former argument is at the edge of plausibility.

    Pretty much though nullification and secession are used for some privileged group within a state to insist that the big bad feds stay out of whatever foully evil thing the state group is up to.

    As a legal history note, nullification advocates in the past never claimed to be able to exempt themselves the U.S. Constitution itself, just federal laws and SCOTUS decisions they didn’t like. Usually the claim is made (even in the secession resolutions in 1860-1861) that the federal government is acting unconstitutionally or that they aren’t required to obey inconvenient federal laws (like the 1828 tariff). I’ve never heard them say the First Amendment (or their other least favorite the Fourteenth) doesn’t apply here.

  • histrogeek

    Well, actual history as opposed to propaganda myths has never been their strong suit. Nor has considering the entirely predictable consequences of an act.

  • Evan

    Just curious, but has anyone ever attempted to invoke this right to “nullification” for any cause that was not morally odious?

    Pedantically, yes. Thomas Jefferson originated it in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, against the Sedition Act which outlawed criticizing the government, and against the Alien Act which allowed the President to expel just about any immigrant. Virginia and Kentucky were both slaveholding states at the time, but they were right in opposing those laws.

  • AnonaMiss

    And all North Carolina churches now have to ordain women.

  • I’m in KY, I know EXACTLY how you feel!

  • Gotchaye

    Also, Vermont basically nullified the Fugitive Slave Act.

    I wouldn’t read much into historical nullification advocates not claiming to exempt themselves from the Constitution; the Constitution wasn’t taken to place many restrictions on states until after a series of court decisions in the wake of the 14th amendment. To the extent that people now are only asserting that the first amendment doesn’t apply to the states rather than that the first amendment doesn’t apply to anyone, they’re in line with previous nullifiers.

  • AnonaMiss


    A living wage in every industry? Better check yourselves before you turn into Socialists, Carolinians.

  • Matthias

    And more importantly by abolitionists nullifiying the fugitive slave act in the years leading up to the civil war. The infamous Dred Scott decision was triggerd by such a nullifiying law (Personal Liberty Law), which was struck down by the supreme court.

  • G.G.

    I’ve never understood the appeal of an official religion, it’s terrible for both church and state. I maintain that the primary reason religion is much stronger in america than in many other countries is because it is voluntary, People are religious if they want to be, not because they are required to be. State sanction opens the floodgates of hypocritical public piety over actual private faith (and we already have enough of that as it is.)

  • Zyzzyva

    For that matter, and in the present day, nullification is basically the grounds that marijuana decriminalization is going on now: since, eg, Washington state doesn’t consider possession of weed a crime, the federal government shouldn’t be able to arrest Washingtonians for possession any more. I agree that it’s pretty far from a morally odious cause, but it is a legally dubious (and, basically, nullification-based) one.

  • Vermic

    I’m confused; just what is the North Carolina GOP’s endgame here? Even if their resolution passes, how do they think it’s going to turn out when someone inevitably takes it to court? Do they really think they will get away with it?

    Are they in denial about how horribly, horribly doomed their plan is?

  • P J Evans

    Oh, *definitely* bring a dish for potluck. (Cake or ice cream for those summer afternoon socials.)

  • If the fourteenth amendment due process clause doesn’t apply, then neither does the rest of the fourteenth amendment, and, hey, presto, we’ve got a state arguing for secession so that they can continue treating people as subhumans. I wonder where we’ve seen this before?

  • From the reports I’ve read on this, they’re claiming that they don’t see there being a basis for any sort of challenge as they don’t intend to establish any sort of religious test. The claim is that this is a mere formality that won’t be used in any sort of prejudicial manner. There won’t be any sort of penalties for not belonging to the official church, and you’ll still be allowed to freely practice the religion of your choice, you just won’t receive the official North Carolina Religious Seal of Approval. Unofficial religions will still be equal, just separate. How could that be a problem? And after all, how could anyone ever question their good intentions (and their passionate sincerity)? /eyeroll

    Even if they actually believed any of that, and managed to stick to it, one has to wonder what’s the point of having an official religion if having said official religion is a mere formality that somehow manages the impossible feat of not legally privileging the official religion over non-favored religions?

    The most charitable view I can give this is that they just really, really want to be able to have government-sanctioned sectarian prayers as part of their government activities and they, rather naively, just haven’t thought through what that actually means and will result in.

    The less charitable view – and the one that seems more likely – is that they’re all just a bunch of fucking idiots.

  • The_L1985

    It depends on what their plan is. The way I see it:

    – If they get away with it, NC turns into a theocracy.

    – If this stupidly blasphemous NC law is rightly struck down, then the GOP gets Persecution Brownie Points.

    It’s almost a win-win for them.

  • Carstonio

    Ford and Warren probably know damn well that this nonsense won’t withstand the barest constitutional scrutiny in federal court. While they obviously favor theocracy, this measure isn’t about trying to establish it. This is about setting themselves up as righteous martyrs being crucified by the federal bullies and their Muslim socialist Kenyan leader.

  • Evan

    Great point. Let’s not forget the personal liberty laws, which – without using the word “nullification” – nullified the Fugitive Slave Act far more effectively than any statute that did use that word. (Hey, they even disbarred anyone acting as lawyer for a slave catcher!)

    Still, I think what triggered Dred Scott was actually the statute abolishing slavery, not a personal liberty law. The Wisconsin personal liberty act was addressed in the slightly-later Ableman v. Booth (which declared it unconstitutional, but the case was ignored.)

  • The_L1985

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Andrea

    Seconded in Indiana.

  • Carstonio

    Yes. Philosophically it’s governing by proclamation, with the goals of taking a stand and being on the right side. The same mindset behind Charles Cooper’s strange argument to the Supreme Court that banning same-sex marriage is about modeling social norms.

  • Jurgan

    ““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; ”

    Okay, I’ve heard of “originalists” wanted to turn back the clock on court rulings, but are they really trying to overturn Marbury v. Madison?
    We don’t have to outlaw churches, though. We can have the established church and some unestablished churches that just don’t have quite as many privileges. Like that baptismal font- perhaps a smaller one for the unestablished religion. You know, one that is equal in quality, just… separate. Separate but equal, you know, I think that’s in the constitution somewhere.
    And that’s your defense of antidisestablishmentarianism for today. I’m enjoying this, because it’s the first time I’ve ever been able to use that word in context.

  • Kirala

    As stupid, wrong, unconstitutional, stupid, and unconstitutional this is… I think this article is being a little melodramatic. I mean, Church of England has been established for centuries, and it hasn’t been a Staatskirche for a long while.

    But I am rather furious with Raleigh for a number of reasons right now. I used to be proud of my state for refusing to join the Union until a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. Now I have to be humiliated by the fact that we’re trying to remove the more important parts of the Constitution by using the less important parts.

    Anyone know if Virginia is any better? I mean, if I have to move drastically far away, I will, but I’d prefer to be near home.

  • ReverendRef

    I wonder if any journalist down there has thought to ask one of the two men which sect they think should be established?

    And then follow that up with, “If that’s the established sect, then it follows that all other sects/denominations will be illegal. Will the State Police be hiring and training more officers to work on Sundays as they will be required to cite every parishioner attending an illegal congregation? Will city/county jail facilities be able to handle the additional influx of clergy prisoners from those illegal congregations? And finally, are you seeing this as an employment/building boom since we will need more State Police officers, more corrections officers and more jails going up in anticipation of the expected crime wave?”

  • MikeJ

    Washington got rid of a few laws about marijuana possession. There are still plenty of circumstances under which it is illegal.

    The argument about feds arresting people is primarily about distribution since the feds don’t bust people walking down the street with a joint. Most people don’t argue that the feds can’t arrest distributors in Washington, merely that they shouldn’t. I think it’s a way to expand legalization (which I’m for!) without all that messy “legislating” and “voting” nonsense, but many people disagree with me.

    Overturning state laws is the first step in legalizing MJ, but it’s only a step. The federal laws need to be fixed, not ignored.

  • JustoneK

    Quadrupled in Louisiana.

  • Victor Savard

    ((( (These are not smart men. Bullies never are.) )))

    Forgive me folks butt Fred “IT” is not funny anymore why didn’t YA and you gods give

    Victor that Billion that his souls “ONE” per sense, I mean 1% asked for cause believe “IT” or not we gods are not sure that Victor’ soul will accept that million signing bonus we offered him if he’ll write 66 books for U>S (usual sinner) and we even threw in a brand new car as a signing bonus NOW

    What’s that Fred?

    Come on Fred! There is a God NOW! and if YA don’t believe me just ask Momma

    Fred! YA can’t say that we alien gods have not been patient with YA and we gods don’t care what some “HOST” movie might eventually tell YA! This “Jesus” Cell of Victor does not exist NOW!

    Listen Fred! His baby daughter just told him that he had a 106 year old grandmother that he never got to meet and his soul is determined to meet his grand mother but Fred, she died last year and that won’t stop him cause his soul wants a galaxy for every “ONE” of his cell you her that U>S god own NOW!

    Fred! I don’t know how you’re going to get out of this “ONE” cause even your black pope wants out and doesn’t want any mentioning of him being in the race for the anti-christ butt Victor doesn’t mind being the uncle Christ, if YA get my drift NOW!

    Don’t take my word for “IT” Fred, just check with the other HAS BEEN if YA know what “I” mean NOW?

    Who’s that YA ask Fred? Sorry Fred, “IT” is TOP secret and if we told YA then we alien gods would need to kill YA cause we’re not really allowed to small talk with YA NOW!

    Fred stop trying to be a comedian cause there are enough out of work and if YA don’t believe me just ask Jon Stewart–now-with-more-freedom—a-glenn-beck-holiday
    and if that doesn’t do “IT” just ask and….

    And you say sinner vic?
    Sorry folks can’t double check for arrows, “I” mean arrors cause Victor’s back NOW!

    Go Figure folks!?


    Don’t be a zombie, Fred.

  • Lori

    No, no. JulianaSundry has to promise not to kill us with sheep. We make no such guarantees. :)

  • Carstonio

    You’re welcome to move to my state. We legalized same-sex marriage, and we’re about to repeal the death penalty and enact tough new gun laws.

  • Oh, good, I was worried about that.

  • Worthless Beast

    Are we even living in America anymore? As I was reading this, I was thinking “Do these guys want to secede, because that’s what it’s going to take,” then I read the word “neo-sessionist.” – Pretty much.
    The problem with establishing any official religion or lack thereof is that you cannot legislate what’s in people’s hearts. I mean, my introversion and general confusion has led me not to darken the door of a church for years and the last “religious symbol” I wore in public was a Triforce, but I do actually believe in things. Conversely, I read little stories here and elsewhere from atheists who go to church on Easter and the like because they want to make their families happy. So, you know, establishing a religion isn’t going to make people more religious – it will make a whole lot of people go thorugh the motions for the sake of keeping their jobs, community standing, etc. while a lot of genuine people are genuinely fringe.
    And I’m sure NC has synagogues…. what about them?
    *Twitches* CONSTITUTION!!! It exists for a reason!

  • Lori

    It figures you would link to a guy making an argument that’s clearly untrue from its first sentence.

  • Worthless Beast

    I once wanted to start a religion based upon a particularly loving and peaceful anime character. The sacrement was going to be beer and donuts, his favorite foods.

  • John

    Virginia is definitely not much better. In several senses. But I have lots of family there, so I don’t complain too much. Especially because I’m currently in Arizona, where our legislators are concerned with who’s using which bathroom.

  • Carstonio

    How about the long-term implications for Christianity? It’s very likely that its decline in Europe is because it’s been an official or unofficial state religion in most countries for centuries. It becomes another civic obligation like paying taxes.

  • LL

    Meanwhile, over in South Carolina, these are the choices facing voters in a special election next month for a congressional seat:

    Elizabeth Colbert Busch-D (yes, Stephen Colbert’s sister)
    Mark Sanford (yes, that one, the Republican who lied about his whereabouts for several days to cover up his extramarital affair)
    A Green Party candidate (name doesn’t matter, he might as well be running for the Communist Party)

    So I’ll wait for the results of that election before I render an opinion on which is the dumbest Carolina.

    Although, yeah, the northern one has pulled ahead slightly.

  • T. Woods said “Constitutional”, not “Judicial” restraint. So he’s still right in a sense.

  • LL

    “Just a bunch of fucking idiots” it is. And I have little doubt that the fucking idiots in other states (like the one I come from, Oklahoma) will hasten to copy them. People always seem more eager to copy idiocy than common sense.

  • And then they can ask when the civil servant rolls will be expunged of those who don’t aspire to the One True Faith

  • Worthless Beast

    I’m wondering why I’ve been downvoted two votes when I’m agreeing with everyone here that what these guys are proposing doesn’t make sense. Did someone misread what I said?
    I remember watching some special on PBS about Western Civilization where the host proposed exactly this. Christianity has declined in Europe because people chaffed under it being offficial, while there are churches down the street from one another in America because there is no state officiality attatched to them, allowing them to have divergent styles.