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?


This is Monday and we're making pies
Each night I wait to get caught
As one by one the lights go out
The lazy imagination of the witch-hunter
  • Enopoletus Harding

    Also, it must be remembered that women constitute the majority of the population around most of the country. Would they really support the secessionist cause?

  • AnonymousSam

    Y’know, aside from the fourteen people in office (that we know of) who just voted to pretend that the federal government has no jurisdiction over North Carolina. :P

  • AnonymousSam

    Er, why should their being women stop them from being pro-seccessionist? I can quote women who think it’s “disgusting” that other women would fight back against a rapist or attempt to seek legal action against their rapist. It’s kind of established that women are capable of being monsters right alongside men. Just look at Bachmann.

  • Lori

    And Texas Governor (and erstwhile major party presidential candidate) Rick Perry who has been stoking secessionist sentiments for quite a while now (sore loser).

  • Dave Pooser

    Not much formal political power these days, but don’t CofE bishops automatically hold a seat in the House of Lords? And despite the reform acts of 1911 and 1949, there’s still some political power to the peerage. (Granted, the House of Lords is probably far more democratic than the United States Senate today, but that’s a low bar to clear, alas.)

    And of course as recently as the beginning of the 20th Century the House of Lords (and by extension the Church of England) exercised a great deal of political power, not particularly wisely.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Nullification is not secession.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    You might be right, AnonymousSam. I thought at least most women in hypothetically secessionist areas would be aware of the Republican war on their reproductive rights.

  • P J Evans

    I’d really like to seem them trying to use those arguments to defend it in court.

  • P J Evans

    There’s a comment upthread that says so, in more detail.

  • Cathy W

    I’m sure a lot of them see it not as a war on their own reproductive rights, but as a way to make sure the dirty ;sluts get what’s coming to them, because they are Good Ladies Who Only Use Their Ladyparts In The Approved Manner So Surely This Won’t Affect Me.

  • quinnthebrain


  • Ben English

    I want you all to know that I, as a Tennessean, didn’t vote for these people and feel a sudden estrangement from any fellow Tennesseans that did.

  • Victor Savard

    (((And that Canada will somehow get dragged into it.)))

    You’re right Invisible Newtrino so I would ask you to pray for me cause i’m afraid that without GOD’s help, society is going to kill me cause, they’ve taken my Canadian Family from me and they’ve literally had me evicted from a junior high school and although at the time, my children told me that this junior high principal was a dyke but “IT” did’nt matter to me at the time cause I believed that she should have her say and long story short, four registered appointment later, this so called Dyke who had been a principal for about four years got me thrown out of school but “IT” didn’t stop there and again because of my writing she found out that I had a gun and longer story short, I spent a night in jail and the next morning, I was lucky enough to remember our five daughters name otherwise, I may have probably been lost in paper work.

    I hear YA! I wrote about “IT” and if they put my writing to get her, I mean together, I would bet that they would have “ONE” of the biggest NOV HELL, I mean novel ever but “I’ve” been wrong before. I don’t want to write a book here so trust me “IT” is not society to blame although that would be an easy route for “ME”, “ME” and “ME” to take.

    Again I hear YA! I’ve challenge them to keep me in a hospital but this doctor who will remain nameless (whille readiing some of my material that society supplied. Anyway this good doctor said in so many words that he couldn’t keep me in any hospital cause “I” was not crazy.

    Why do “I” get the impression that so many people are laughing and feeling sorry for this body of mine? Like Jesus said in so many words, feel sorry for your children but then again maybe there is no real god NOW!

    Go Figure! :)

    Truth be known, “I’M” probably

    Keep praying cause something tells me that “IT” will help U>S (usual sinners) in the long run NOW.


  • AnonymousSam

    A state declaring it has the right to ignore whatever the federal government says and do things which are blatantly unconstitutional does not strike me as being a member of the union anymore. That they’d still like to collect on federal monies and benefits doesn’t mean they’d still be part of the “united” States.

  • AnonymousSam

    I wish. Given that most of those representatives are married, it would be nice if their wives understood exactly what it was their husbands are doing.

  • Julie

    The only thing that strikes me as less scary than a Methodist Sharia might be an Episcopalian Sharia.

  • EllieMurasaki
  • P J Evans

    Yes, that’s why so many people signed those ‘secession’ petitions at this year. And why all the Southern states (as well as some that aren’t) are busy trying to find ways to ignore not only Federal law but also the Constitution, even if they have to use arguments that require misreading the Constitution just for a start.

    Pull the other one, it’s the same fucking idea as in 1861: they want to reinstitute legal discrimination against people they fell superior to: minorities, women, non-Christians, people with low-income…

  • Marc Mielke

    Really, to bring them in line all the Fed needs do is turn off the tap:
    $2,457,808,838 is a lot of money to leave on the table. (2008, to pick a random year).

  • Enopoletus Harding

    There’s nothing unconstitutional about nullification. See
    There’s also nothing unconstitutional about a state setting up its own state religion, although I strongly oppose any and all state religions.

  • AnonymousSam

    Er, it violates the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution.

  • Dash1

    And there goes North Carolina down the Marxist path: potlucks are the very definition of communism in action.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, he went there, did he? (-_-)

    I wonder what his wife or girlfriend thinks or for that matter what his mother thinks.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Has anyone noticed that Disqus now “scrolls off” old comments when you hit the “load more” button, and you now have to refresh the page to get back the previous batch of comments?

    Holy clunky interface, Batman.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I went and looked at the Gawker article vainly hoping that he was making an extremely inappropriate analogy, but nope, he went there. Totally, 100%, Went There.

    I express a sudden and fervent wish for him to step on millions of Lego pieces.

  • Lori

    It’s not just that he went there, it’s that he thought he was being clever. The fact that that man makes a living as a teacher is yet more proof of the unfairness of the universe.

  • Trixie_Belden

    Well, we do sometimes get random readers from other parts of patheos and the internet. Could just be a troll. Is this a good time to lament how I miss the old disqus format where they just had “likes” and you could sometimes see who was agreeing with you? Yes, yes it is.

  • P J Evans

    The minister at our church would sometimes read ‘Ladle Rat Rotten Hut’ for us afterward. I think an entire generation learned it that way (he was there for ten years).

  • P J Evans

    Yep. It’s annoying, because they don’t provide a way to scroll *up*.

  • P J Evans

    Sister Cruise Missile of Mild Honesty thanks you.

  • CoolHandLNC

    The North Carolina Constitution has equal protection and due process clauses. Then, it also explicitly subordinates state law to federal jurisdiction. I doubt these guys have read it or, if they did, they only saw the bits that validated their viewpoint. Such as the rather peculiar freedom of religion clause that establishes the right to “worship Almighty God” in any way one pleases.

  • CoolHandLNC

    I’m sorry to say that I’m in Carl Ford’s district. He ran unopposed in a gerrymandered district where the winner of the Republican primary always wins.
    He routinely exploits religion, and the cross of Christ, for personal and political gain.
    when he was on the County Commission, he took his turn leading the Pledge of Allegiance. However, at his radio station just down the road from my house, they fly the North Carolina flag and the Israeli flag. No American flag. Real patriotic.
    that’s the angle Martin Luther King prayer breakfast kama which is not an official function, he declined to read the county’s Proclamation. Instead kama he started to go on about how dr. Martin Luther King was an advocate of a small government. I sort of regret not shouting at him to sit down and shut up.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The two times I’ve been to Planned Parenthood for medical care, the majority of the people standing outside yelling at me for “going to kill my baby” were other women. The person that told me that if even one “innocent little angel” was saved by their crap, it didn’t matter how many women they traumatized was a woman.

    There are women out there who are solidly pro-forced birth. If merely being a woman meant that you were pro-choice, we’d likely have voted out most of the pro-forced birthers by now and womens’ autonomy wouldn’t be anywhere near as precarious as it is.

  • Riastlin Lovecraft

    Danish citizen here. As has been mentioned, we do still have religious freedom. Mostly, it just means that priests are also civil servants (I recall a lovely story some years back of a priest who was actually an atheist. He got to keep his job because he argued that priest was basically just another job, and nobody had complained about his performance. No source for it, though). As zzxjoanw said, most people are members of the church, and pay tithes (taking along with the normal taxes), but only go to church for special occcasions, such as weddings, baptisms, confirmations, funerals and -maybe- Christmas and/or Easter.
    Speaking of which, baptisms and confirmations are for most just another thing you do as you grow older, with little care for the religious mention. Confirmations are, in effect, a larger 2nd 14th birthday party.

  • Riastlin Lovecraft

    Meh, seems I misremembered about the priest. He didn’t get his job back until he “repented” -.- I liked the story better before.

  • Guest

    Thirded there too!

  • reynard61

    From my Facebook page (slightly edited):

    Why does North Carolina hate the U.S. Constitution so much?

    Both of these travesties of lawmaking (the proposed State Religion and College Voter Tax bills) may very well pass through the Republican-controlled legislature “like shit through a goose” (to use a famous phrase) and be signed by it’s Republican Dict-*ahem!*Governor, but I doubt very much that *either* will pass legal muster when they hit the SCOTUS’ bench.

    This is worthless showboating; and while I’d normally save my opprobrium for just the North Carolina Legislature (*especially* the imbecile[s] who introduced these…these…*THINGS*) and the Governor — who should both be ashamed of themselves for wasting both the time *and* money of that state’s citizens by exposing them to the inevitable lawsuits that will follow and the court fights that will end in inevitable defeat — I have little sympathy for those same citizens who *elected* that Legislature and Governor. That money — the money that will be frittered away over the next few years so that a bunch of politicians can preen before the cameras and tell *you* that they are “defending your traditions” or whatever other brainless twaddle they’ll spout in your direction — could have been used for more teachers or policemen or better roads, or even given back to you as a tax refund; but you will never see it again (or any of the benefits that it could have brought you) because a bunch of incompetents have decided that their ideology is more important than you are. The better question might be “Why do North Carolina voters hate themselves so much?”

  • christopher_y

    The House of Lords can delay legislation for one term of Parliament, with the notable exception of anything to do with the national budget and the working of Parliament. It can pass amendments, which the House of Commons can subsequently unpass again if they want to. I think the Senate can still do a bit more than that, when it isn’t hamstrung by ideological extremists.

    But the main advantage of being an established church, is that it gives you a platform. When the Archbishops speak, people listen. I imagine that in Scotland, when the Moderator of the General Assembly speaks, people listen. Of course, leaders of other churches and other faiths also have their views reported, but not, so to speak, on the front page.

  • alfgifu

    Yes, but in the UK we had terrible internal conflict that lasted centuries before we got to religious freedom. The Church of England, much as I love it, is one of those powers that we defanged after a long painful struggle. Like the House of Lords, or the Monarchy – reduced, balanced against other powers, discredited as an authority, and then allowed to earn its way by demonstrating its value.
    It might be possible to skip over the process and start with a nice tame version, but power corrupts, so I very much doubt it. Are there any states that managed to have an established religion and religious freedom from the get-go?

  • Stewart

    Malawi, under Hastings Banda, was a dictatorship, and Banda was a Methodist minister, so technically, a Methodist dictatorship. Apart from the poverty, corruption, and opponents of the government being found dead in the streets, it worked well.

  • alfgifu

    The Church of England is a mellow, broad and generally comforting organisation these days, but it did take a while to get there. Its early days were a mixture of heady freedom (hey, we don’t have to take orders from Rome any more! Priests can get married!) and bloody enforcement (murder, torture, martyrdoms). There was a lot of power politics involved, of course, but my guess is that any attempt to establish a state religion would run into the same need to exert orthodoxy.

    It took several hundred years to beat the C of E down into its current shape, and the same processes that passed power in the UK from the monarch to the people. The monarch is the head of the church, so reducing the reach and authority of royalty had a knock-on effect. Case in point: bishops used to be appointed by the monarch, they are now appointed by Parliament in her name.

    Pros and cons of the current status:

    - The C of E provides a place of worship and a vicar for everyone in the UK. Wherever you are there is a local parish church.

    - The parishioners have the support of the whole church if they need to (for example) find a new vicar.

    - Resources can be shared across the whole country so wealthy parishes can subsidise those that are struggling.

    - Lots of pretty buildings built down the ages are open to public use both for services and just to visit.

    - From the perspective of the church, being established means that they are under a lot of scrutiny from politicians. This can be useful. Eg, questions in the House of Commons about the failure to ordain women bishops.

    - The church is legally restricted in some ways. Eg, the marriage service is a legal form and cannot be altered from one of the approved versions. This was a problem for me and my husband, as there is no way for an atheist to take the references to God out of the vows.
    - The C of E has a disproportionately loud voice in national affairs, which marginalises people from other sects and faiths.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    Which was passed through a truly bizarre method. I don’t see anything in the 14th Amendment that prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

  • Enopoletus Harding

    You’re probably right.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    As an attempted Unitarian, this may be the most hilarious thing I’ve seen all week.

  • histrogeek

    Why must you focus on the negative? People always focus on the opponent shot dead in the street rather than the thousands of people who weren’t shot dead in the street.

    Besides, everyone know that the reason Banda was a true bastard was because he went to the University of Chicago (a big chunk of the library’s Africa collection was donated by Banda, “the lion of Malawi”).

  • Ygorbla

    Actually, the first time nullification was mentioned as a concept was in the

    Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, where Jefferson and Hamilton used it to argue resistance to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    I think most people would agree today that resisting the Alien and Sedition acts was an admirable goal, even if the argument they were relying on was incredibly dangerous to the country in the long run.

  • L4ou

    As a Methodist clergyman I would have to lean toward extensive, mandated potlucks; grape juice only, make that Welch’s Grape Juice only; and lots of “passing the peace”!

  • solandis

    Through what’s known as the incorporation doctrine, courts have held that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment applies most of the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states, in particular the injunction against the establishment of religion was held to apply to the states in Everson v. Board of Education (1947).

  • Carstonio

    We’re down to four this morning – Manchin of WV, Landrieu of LA, Pryor of AR, and Johnson of SD.

    The US was bitterly divided during the Vietnam era but never reached the point of civil war. Perhaps that was because there weren’t billions of dollars in wealth and property at stake like there was with slavery. Similarly, the culture war could turn into a shooting war, but I suspect it’s not as likely as you suggest. Every poll I’ve seen suggests that the reactionary side in the culture war is mostly older white Southern evangelical men, fuming against their demographic destiny. To put it bluntly, these issues may ultimately be settled by the Grim Reaper.

  • Lori

    AFAICT when a thread gets long enough it’s possible for some comments to essentially fall off the map and become totally unreadable. There’s at least one comment that is too low to read when I first pull up the thread, but when I load more comments it gets pushed off the top of the page.

    Disqus is basically only usable for short comment threads that die the day the start. Any long thread, especially one that ranges over multiple days, is almost impossible to follow. IOW, Disqus is totally wrong for this blog.