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

North Carolina Republicans introduce bill to outlaw Baptist churches and establish N.C. Staatskirche April 4, 2013

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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  • Though I support the incorporation doctrine due to its beneficial results, I can’t find it supportable by the Constitution. It is extremely doubtful anyone in the 1860s could have seen the incorporation doctrine as a viable interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

  • P J Evans

    I don’t know what kind of grape juice we used, but it wasn’t Welch’s.

  • solandis

    Likely true, but not really relevant unless you’re an even stricter originalist than Scalia. Few people in the 1860’s would have thought that the Equal Protection clause would prohibit racial segregation in schools (Brown v Board of Education) or that the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses would prevent states from outlawing interracial marriage (Loving v Virginia). If I recall correctly, legislators at the time even said explicitly that the 14th and the other Reconstruction amendments would NOT have that kind of effect. Even Scalia admits that, for example, we need not interpret the ban on cruel and unusual punishments in exactly the way the Founders would have.

  • It’s all in the due process clause.

    If the Constitution and amendments didn’t apply to the states, then the fourteenth amendment itself wouldn’t apply to the states and slavery would still be legal. That’s the grimmer side of North Carolina’s actions — they could just as easily be saying “This doesn’t apply to us. Negros, put your chains back on!”

  • AnonaMiss

    Please don’t use anti-gay slurs here Victor.

    Also, the principal’s sexuality would appear to have nothing to do with why she had you removed from the premises. The only way it could have remotely affected that is if you were using anti-gay slurs, or flashing her or something – and in either circumstance, removing you from the premises would be absolutely appropriate.

  • A good case can be made against the legitimacy of the Reconstruction amendments-how can a state be in the Union and outside of it at the same time? As I said in my reply to solandis,

    Though I support the incorporation doctrine due to its beneficial results, I can’t find it supportable by the Constitution. It is extremely doubtful anyone in the 1860s could have seen the incorporation doctrine as a viable interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

  • So what you’re saying is the states, during the secession when they tried to run off and form their own country, might have had a different opinion of whether or not they were still part of the United States? And that their opinion, while they were off trying to form their own country, should still be fully relevant following the dissolution of the Confederation back into the boundaries of the United States?

  • VMink

    I’m not a fan of downvotes myself. I don’t browse by them anyway, but I get that they can be a bit of a surprise. But as Trixie says below, we get the more-than-occasional browse-by trolling by people who think that they’re crushing your ego by downvoting you. Which is self-defeating. Downvotes, Dislikes, and that sort of thing stifle rational discourse and dialogue.

    I miss the old Disqus. They are a singularly unresponsive, unhelpful, and unuseful — and actively harmful — commenting system and company.

  • fraser

    I think part of that is the redefinition of Christianity to mean “Republican party platform.” That allow Protestants to treat Romney and Santorum as fellow Christians instead of outsiders.

  • fraser

    He attempted to walk this back by saying it was just an experiment, but he goes on to say that he proposed it because he can’t figure out the answers.
    So apparently whether you or the rapist have property rights to your body when you’re unconscious is something he feels is a puzzling question.

  • I am saying that as the former Confederate states during Reconstruction were not treated as “states” by Congress while these former Confederate states were ratifying the Reconstruction amendments, the Reconstruction amendments have at best questionable legitimacy.

  • P J Evans

    Do you have anything to back that up? As I recall, the punishments during Reconstruction were at the level of individuals, not states.

  • By “treated as “states” by Congress” I mean “represented in Congress”. See for the date each state was readmitted into the Union. See
    for when each state ratified the 14th Amendment. In all cases, the former Confederate states became treated as “states” by Congress during or after the day they ratified the 14th Amendment.

  • So what you’re saying is that if they so wanted, they could bring back slavery, make it illegal for women to vote, outlaw any religion other than Quakerism and mass an army to declare war on the federal government — and they’d still be just like any other state. :p

    No, I’m going to go with “if you don’t play by federal rules, you don’t get to play the federal game.” They’re either all in or they’re not part of the US. The alternative is a return to the days of the Articles of Confederation, and we know how well that turned out.

  • “make it illegal for women to vote” and “mass an army to declare war on the federal government” only if they seceded.

  • What you’re saying is that slavery was still fully legal in Mississippi until 2/19/2013 and until that date they were only yielding to unconstitutional peer pressure from the rest of the country — and you don’t see a problem with this logic.

    Um, okay. Yeah, I have nothing further to say on this.

  • misanthropy_jones

    this is going to open quite an amusing can of worms.
    when and how to baptize, what to drink at communion,which hymns are appropriate and what type of accompaniment is allowable, old earth or new earth…
    boy, to be a fly on that wall…

  • Disqus is a total POS.

  • Oh, there are some DISGUSTING young “Libertarian” fools of the Paul Ryan sort who figure they’re going to continue Holy Breitbart’s BS Revival ….

  • Can we please, please, please voluntarily commit to NOT THREADING replies? Use the post box exclusively as a stopgap measure until Disqus fixes its shit?

    I, for one, will resolve to use this method in the NRA post due to come any time today now.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Only if you want me to never participate in comment threads again. I cannot Disqus at work, and I do not want to Disqus at home more than absolutely necessary to subscribe to any new threads that have arrived while I was unable to Disqus and to read any comments on those threads that appeared in that timespan. The marvelous thing about email notifications, other than the fact that I can reply to the email and it’ll post my comment? They come in chronological order.

  • The marvelous thing about email notifications, other than the fact that I
    can reply to the email and it’ll post my comment? They come in
    chronological order.

    Well, we need that CSS tweaker, then. Or that NoScript surrogate script.

    The main problem is not the threading itself.

    It’s the threading, COMBINED WITH the new way Disqus scrolls off comments. It breaks the threading when threads get too long.

  • Not to mention the Surprise Pregnancy!

  • All THEY are doing is “going through the motions.” Their faith is about as deep to them as their Sports Team Loyalty. (Which means “there’s no good *reason* why theirs is better — it just is, ’cause it’s THEIRS, and they’d be willing to kill you over it.)

    They know next to NOTHING about Scripture, or about Jesus, preferring Good Ol’ “I’m Not Legalistic but Let Me Be Legalistic!!!” Paul or whatever paranoid nonsense Pastor pulled out of his butt this morning after he listened to Hagee.

    A plague on these vicious shallow frauds.

  • Step up your meds, honey. You are making NO sense to the rest of us.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I was getting the feeling that this discussion was starting to do the same thing as, say, discussion among american conservatives about universal health care, where they speak of it as if it intrinsically leads to some kind of dystopian hellhole, entirely ignoring the fact that many popular non-hellhole countries have implemented it.

    I think playing into the idea that establishing a religion means destroying religious freedom and turning a state into a theocratic hellhole is (a) kinda insulting to the people who live in countries with established religions, and (2) distracts from the fact that right now, without an established religion, we’ve got theocratic authoritarians in positions of power.

  • Rae

    That’s why they added the “Lalalala I can’t hear you” clause regarding federal court decisions. I mean, obviously it’s not going to work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to stop them from trying.

  • So… they’re basically arguing that the U.S. Constitution committed suicide upon accepting into its parchment the Tenth Amendment.

    That’s… special.

    I kind of considered “This document establishes what is and isn’t constitutional in the United States” to be sort of the implied purpose of the document. But apparently since that power isn’t set out explicitly, that power must be reserved for the states alone. Like, oops, the Founders forgot to write it down as a Zeroeth Amendment, therefore the whole document gets the “‘ain’t’ ain’t a word ’cause ‘ain’t’ ain’t in the dictionary” treatment. Whee?

    *facepalm forever*

  • I don’t think anti-gay slurs have the same meaning in Victor’s post. Think of them more as one of the less lovely veggies (the turnip, perhaps) in his usual word salad.

  • reynard61

    Non-denominational Ponytheist Crusaders! YAY!!!

  • The thing is, the founders were not of one mind about federalism. Slavery is pretty much the reason that the predominate interpretation of the constitution ended up not being “We are placing careful restrictions on the federal government, but the individual states are essentially sovereign nations for 75% of all purposes and can enact whatever laws they see fit,” and to that extent, a lot of what’s in the constitution and the bill of rights was written with an eye toward “The feds can’t come in and force states to abide by restrictions on the freedoms of their citizens greater than what the people of that particular state have agreed to (I’m looking at YOU, DEA),” not toward “The states can’t restrict the freedom of the americans living there more than the limits set up by the federal government”. There was a big difference of opinion among the founders whether power started with the states and proceeded “upward” to the federal government, or if power started with the federal government and devolved downward to the states — essentially, whether the states were business units or wholly-owned subsidiaries of ConFederalGovernmentCo

    Becoming “one nation” rather than “several states” is something that happened over time, and really only became “the” way we think of the US after the civil war. And there’s a lot of reasons that it was the right way for the nation to evolve (For example, the economic clusterfrak in the EU is the sort of thing that gets markedly worse when you’re a single economy made up of a bunch of largely sovereign nations), but it’s not the mindset with which a lot of the constitution was written, and we’ve been basically running the country on a kludge for a century and a half, trying to back-patch a set of rules for running a union of several mostly-independent states to run a single nation with heavily matrixed administrative subdivisions.

  • P J Evans

    I keep thinking of Michael Flynn’s ‘In the Country of the Blind’, where at one point he says it’s like a game of telephone: after about five generations, the original idea gets lost or distorted out of recognition.

  • PatBannon
  • Fusina

    That is all. They are going against their own state constitution. Mmm-Hmmmm.

  • “I doubt all the men who reddened Caesar’s toga would be seen breaking bread together in peacetime” – Cornelius Slate

  • Southern Baptists != All Baptists. It’s the Southern Baptists who split over slavery.

  • P J Evans

    I have Seventh-Day Baptists on my family tree. It’s a small group, compared to the SBC, but much older (mid-17th century Rhode Island; still in existence).).

  • Graham Hood

    Actually, its not as deep as sports team loyalty. That can have a genuine emotional connection and there are reasons why one team is better than another. The reasons of choice vary depending on the person but they are there, that’s why it is loyalty. Going through the motions in anything is about placating others or what you are seen to do.

  • Michele Presnell, one of the bill’s supporters, was asked recently if she would be comfortable with someone holding a public prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting.”

    Her response: “No, I don’t condone terrorism.”

    She then went on to justify her support of the bill by saying “we just need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us.”