A news story I read on Wednesday about an astonishingly bigoted district attorney in Tennessee was partly disturbing and partly encouraging but mostly the former.
Yet more disturbing, even terrifying, was a year-old video I viewed of the DA — Coffee County prosecutor Craig Northcott — explaining to clergy at the March 13 Chafer Theological Seminary Pastor’s Conference the role of religious faith in government. (The video, which may make your blood boil, is embedded above.)
The overarching question is why public officials like Northcott, who hold patently unconstitutional, often irrational, views regarding the necessary separation of church and state, are able to keep their jobs in our secular republic.
DA doesn’t ‘agree’ with SCOTUS
Northcott has come under fire in recent days from critics for publicly making anti-Muslim comments and, because he doesn’t “agree with” same-sex coupling, not providing the same protections to gays as he does straight couples in domestic violence cases. The liberal-leaning media outlet TN Holler reported on June 3:
“The Holler has now unearthed video in which Northcott says that despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, he refuses to recognize it as the law of the land, won’t prosecute same-sex domestic assaults as “domestic” cases, and even encourages county clerks not to process same-sex marriages – saying he would use his “prosecutorial discretion” to make sure they aren’t charged.”
The Holler added:
“Recently The Holler revealed deeply Islamophobic Facebook comments by Northcott in which he referred to the Islamic faith as ‘evil’ and equated it with the KKK and the Aryan Nation, while also saying there are “no constitutional rights”, only rights bestowed upon us by the ‘One True God.’”
‘Government is God’s creation’
Northcott’s strong theocratic bent is even more evident in his Pastor’s Conference speech.
The gist of the appalling speech was that government was originally “created by God” — when He gave behavioral instructions to Noah and his family after the flood to “go forth and multiply” and not kill humans — and thus, in Northcott’s view, forevermore government must follow divine law, not man’s.
A ‘divine institution’
According to Northcott, God brought on the great flood because of man’s “deprativity,” his inability to control himself despite God haven created him with the tools to do so. So He had to do something when Noah was able to find dry land to avoid the same issue in the future, as Northcott explains God’s purpose after the flood:
“We’re going to get other humans to help you [Noah and other people] do what’s right — and He established government at that time and for that purpose. So what can we deduce from that, what is government’s role in humanity? … government is intended to restrain evil and promote righteousness. … that’s why it exists and why God created this divine institution.”
This would, of course, be news to Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and the rest of America’s Founding Fathers, who purposely sought to create a secular government that tolerated religious freedom and diversity throughout the populace — not within government policy.
Northcott and other evangelical public officials are doing what they feared the first Catholic president — John F. Kennedy — would do: put the commands of God (in the person of the Pope) before the rights and needs of Americans. Kennedy, of course, as an Enlightenment man, never did any such thing.
Why is he still in office?
So, back to my original question — why are these God-obsessed guys allowed to keep their jobs? — and the encouraging part of the recent article I read.
They are allowed to keep their jobs because too many other Americans, especially in the Bible Belt, think as wrongheadedly as they do.
What’s encouraging is that in Northcott’s case, there’s been substantial blowback from more reasoned Tennesseeans. More than 200 Nashville lawyers have signed an open letter urging the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to launch an ethics investigation against Northcott.
“We find [Northcott’s behavior] disturbing and unacceptable on multiple levels, the least of which being Mr. Northcott’s misunderstanding of domestic violence law in the State of Tennessee where marriage or romantic status is not an essential element for a charge of domestic assault,” the lawers’ letter stated in part. “This is the highest level of prosecutorial misconduct and abuse of discretion.”
I’m heartened by he boldness, but why should 200 pillars of the community need to call for the removal of a man who is blatantly corrupting the Constitution’s intent and the rule of law to satisfy his religious fantasies?
The worrisome part is Mr. Northcott is far from alone. People like him are the reason, for example, that we now have religious “In God We Trust” signs governmentally required at schools in a good number of states — with more considering it.
And the holy warriors are just getting going. Elected officials like Craig Northcott give them great aid and comfort.