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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  • esmerelda_ogg

    Or, they really, really want sectarian prayers AND haven’t thought it through AND they’re all idiots. No need to pick just one answer here!

  • I promise not to kill you, with sheep or anything else. :)

  • Lori

    I didn’t think it was possible for SC politics to get dumber than they were when I lived there, and then Sanford won his primary. It’s not so much the affair* or even the lying to cover it up, it’s the total dereliction of duty. The head of the state government was totally incommunicado and left no one else in charge. if there had been an emergency while he was humping down the Appalachian Trail there was no one who was actually legally authorized to deal with it. He shouldn’t be allowed to manage a McDonald’s, let alone hold elected office again.

    I have no idea what to think about Elizabeth Busch since I haven’t heard a thing about her except that she’s Stephen Colbert’s sister. I assume she has policy positions and a platform other than “I’m Colbert’s sister”, but i haven’t heard a word about it. I think that says a great deal about our press corps and nothing much about her.

    *I confess it does chap my hide a bit that “values voters” are willing to vote for his guy after he ditched his kids on Father’s Day to fly thousands of miles to schtup his mistress. I guess it’s all retroactively A-OK now that he’s put a ring on it.

  • P J Evans

    I understand she worked as a legislative aide, so she’s not inexperienced.

  • Victor Savard

    (((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.)))

    I hear ya Fear less Son but long story short,

    I hear ya NOW!

    Go Figure folks!? :)


  • fraser

    They’ve been trying for years. Pat Robertson used to argue that Supreme Court decisions are only binding on the people involved, so Brown vs. Board of Education, for instance, only affects that Board and Brown. Nobody else.
    Meanwhile, Tennessee is pushing for a law that will allow them to give vouchers to religious schools but not to Muslims.

  • Generally speaking, the (limited) legalization of pot in Washington is legal only insofar as the federal government does not decided to enforce its own laws about pot in Washington. The feds can march into Washington and arrest pot owners in accordance with federal law, but the local Washington authorities do not have an obligation to make those same arrests.

    At least that was my read on the situation.

  • stardreamer42

    A lot of these unholy alliances (and I use the term with malice aforethought) seem to be predicated on the notion that “the enemy of your enemy is your friend”. But that’s never a safe way to bet — it’s just as likely that the enemy of your enemy is also your enemy, just in a different way, and is using you for their own purposes until they don’t need you any more.

  • fraser

    It was pointed out elsewhere that his “There but for the grace of God go I” comment on other people’s sex scandals is amazing hypocrisy–after all, he did go there and the grace of God didn’t stop him.

  • fraser

    Having just paid my NC taxes, I so look forward to seeing my state spend money on defending this shit.I’m inclined to see it as more of the freaking out over knowing their side is sliding into demographic minority status.
    Oh, yet another delightful measure–like Repubs in other state, ours have announced they want to restrict voting by college students because they’re being “manipulated” to vote for Dems.

  • 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.

    I suspect that is irrelevant to them. They want to keep people to be forced to go through the motions because it keeps people who are doubters, who’s faith has faltered, from realizing that there are alternatives.

    It is not about enforcing belief, it is about enforcing structure.

  • SisterCoyote


    There’s a bit in Sandman, in the End of the World, where a corrupt leader has somehow made himself both religious/papal-ish leader, and the head of the state. He can now control the people both by threatening their lives with execution/imprisonment, and by threatening their souls with eternal damnation.

  • stardreamer42

    One almost wishes they would. If it could be done without destroying the lives of thousands of innocents who would be trapped there because of lack of money to leave, I’d be tempted to say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

  • SisterCoyote

    I am looking forward to the ACLU wiping the floor with their asses, when this thing reaches its inevitable conclusion.

  • Tennessee is also working on a bill (which shows every sign of passing the House and Senate) which would tie welfare payments to a child’s academic performance, allowing them to reduce payments to families whose children are doing poorly in school. Notably, they do not intend to ensure that every child gets an adequate education.

  • Victor Savard

    Sorry Fred!

    I know! I know! Some times, sinner vic can be a fuckup too.

    I hear YA! How about Victor NOW?

    God only knows for sure about “ME”, “ME” and “ME” NOW!?

    Keep praying folks


  • “The world… is made… of Love and Peace!

  • histrogeek

    I had forgotten about the personal liberty laws that basically nullified the 1850 Fugitive Slave laws. The fact that those laws were brought up as one of the causes for secession shows how seriously the slave owners took their professed principles (nullification for me but not for thee).

  • SisterCoyote

    Wow. That goes beyond gerrymandering. I wonder when they’ll come out and say it – if you’re going to vote Democrat, you aren’t allowed to vote.

  • Hth

    I think we should just keep right on whittling down the force of law into smaller and smaller chunks. Down with the tyranny of the federal *and* state governments!

    This message sent from the Free Republic of Durham County.

  • Lori

    That goes right along with people saying that if they weren’t Christians they’d kill people or whatever horrible thing they believe atheists will inevitably do. That argument says a lot about the person who makes it and it’s all bad.

  • Ah yes, bill 666, elimating a $2500 tax cut for parents whose children are going to vote from another address (such as college, as you said)…

    Naturally, it also reduces early voting opportunity and eliminates early voting sites. It’s currently being reviewed by a committee.

  • Hth

    In fairness, lots of nations with a state religion also permit plenty of other religions to practice freely — the UK comes to mind. What this is really intended to do is to serve as a trump card against those of us who complain about the government-sponsored prayers and services on the grounds that, you know, it unconstitutionally establishes one religion as superior to all others and also to the lack of religion. Now they can just say, Well, yeah! and save a lot of court costs.

  • G.G.

    True: if you are the priest-king it’s a pretty sweet deal for you, but not so great for everybody else. Do all these people think they will end up wielding the power rather than having it used against them?

  • Lori
  • What I want to know is how are they going to fit all the Baptists in North Carolina into that itty bitty baptismal font?

  • Lorehead

    Sanctuary cities?

  • Lorehead

    Usually, this sort of thing just means some state legislators are idiots, and nothing comes of it. That said, this one already has at least fourteen sponsors, including majority leader Edgar Starnes, and is part of a larger pattern, so it’s fair to say this is what the party believes.

    If they actually pass this, they might be trying the Roy Moore strategy.

  • I suspect that their endgame is to be able to explain why establishing religion might not be constitutional, but the specific reasons that it’s unconstitutional don’t apply to a state refusing to implement Obamacare and Gun Control.

  • Lorehead

    Hey, they have every right to express their opinion. It’s protected by —


  • I have heard it said that one of the features of an authoritarian is that they do not necessarily want the power to chastise you for doing something that they disagree with, as long as they know someone in authority will be able to do it for them.

    Most of them do not think that they will be the priest-kings, but they think that someone who is part of their tribe will be, and will put all those Others in their place.

  • Is there anyone here from England, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, or Monaco who can speak to the benefits of having an official state religion? I mean, I agree that we oughtn’t to have one in the US, but there seems to be at least a bit of evidence that such things aren’t inherently odious or require that the Baptists close up shop. (There’s bunches of other countries which have state religions. Not all of them are nice places)

  • P J Evans

    They’re having trouble finding a way to word that law so it only applies to Christian schools – not that there are many Muslim schools in Tennessee – because they can’t use size as a criterion, and making it more explicit puts them on the obvious side of discrimination..

  • Update: The bill has been killed. House speaker Thom Tillis reported it this afternoon.

  • Virginia and Kentucky’s resolutions against the Sedition Act were not odious.

  • arresi

    I’ve often told my mom that the fastest way to restore the separation of church and state would be letting the theocrats win for a bit. Let everyone suffer through liberal Episcopalians and conservative Methodists teaching students from the King James Bible and tax money going to the Baptist Church for a while.

    (Mind you, a fight that involves public spaces, taxes, children, and religion is unlikely to be anything but bloody, so speed is really the only thing that method has going for it.)

  • Barry_D

    “Since an established Baptist Church is an oxymoron,…”

    I’m sorry to have to tell you, but this belief that Baptists believe in freedom of conscience died the minute that they realized (a) there were enough the them to push others around and (b) slavers pay really good money for false priests who’ll preach slavery.

  • Barry_D

    “I’ve never understood the appeal of an official religion, it’s terrible for both church and state.”

    You don’t understand power?

    And ‘terrible for both church and state’ is a feature for some people.

  • fraser

    Unfortunately I’m sure the dwindling ranks of the white rural Christian male demographic that’s the Republican core will see this as a sign the politicians have their back.

  • Carstonio

    In a related story, marriage equality appears to now have 51 votes in the US Senate – Bill Nelson of Florida (!) is the latest to join up. Six to go, almost like a Reginald Rose script. Related because the culture war is largely an extension of the Civil War, victory is in sight, and the North Carolina reactionaries are really fighting a rear guard action.

  • fraser

    Or there’s the blog post I was reading this morning where the guy was arguing he can’t see any reason rape should be illegal if you’re unconscious and there’s no physical damage. After all, why should your discomfort on learning you’ve been raped outweigh the positive feelings of the rapist?

  • I wish I could be that optimistic. The ways in which the USA seems to be pulling in almost diametrically opposite directions makes me seriously (and fearfully) entertain the notion that a second literal Civil War will happen in the USA.

    And that Canada will somehow get dragged into it.

  • Lori

    Ah yes, Steven Landsburg, misogynist libertarian extraordinaire. I have many thoughts about him and his rape fantasies. I decline to share any of them because they’re inappropriate for a public forum.

  • Grey Seer


    English person reporting in. I can confirm that we have an official state religion in the Church of England. I can also confirm that last I checked, it means very little beyond the name – the church officials exercise no formal political power, and we haven’t had any politicians claiming religious guidance or morality for decades. It’s rather nice.

    Of course, the Church is still quintessentially British, in that it was originally endorsed by the King so that we could thumb our noses at the Europeans and win an ongoing dispute by a technicality.

  • zzxjoanw

    I’m not from Denmark, but I live here right now. Most people here are officialy members of the church (I think), but few actually go more than a couple times a year.

  • Ah, and in keeping with Republican policy, Warren is now claiming that the bill was not intended to create a state religion. Yes, it came out of arguing that the first amendment shouldn’t stop them from having blatantly Christian-themed illegal prayer sessions on government time, and yes, the bill specifically says that the first amendment wouldn’t apply to the state and they could make laws respecting an establishment of religion, and yes, the bill is called the “Defense of Religion Act”… but it totally wasn’t intended to establish a religion.

    I have no words, only rage.

  • de_la_Nae

    Damnit, we’re having that talk in Indiana too. Theoretically the argument is “These transient voters shouldn’t have a say in how we run things here, since they aren’t really residents.”

    It’s…a dumb argument. This is their primary residence for, what, 9-10 months of a year at least, most of them? Like hell they shouldn’t have a say in how they’re governed. Restricting the voting rights of adult U.S. citizens who spend most of their time in this state for 3-8 years is silly.

  • The problem with a second war of secession happening in the U.S. include

    1. Blacks (which tend to vote Democratic) have voting rights and would probably not like to be part of a potential group of seceding states.
    2. There’s no politically powerful group advocating for secession in the U.S.
    3. The secessionist cause has no major financial backers.
    4. Even conservative-leaning states like Federal dollars.