Theocrats Unmasked

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Imagine an America where, if you want to be a high school principal or you want to run for state office, you have to prove that you’ve been “born again.” Imagine an America where kindergarten children are taught as part of the public school curriculum that if they don’t accept Jesus as their savior, they will burn in hell for all eternity. Imagine an America where official meetings begin with prayers that infidels will come to know the Lord. 


Eight North Carolina legislators and the House Majority leader have put forward a bill that would make all of this possible. The bill, House Joint Resolution 494, also known as the “Rowan County Defense of Religion Act,” declares that states are free to make laws they choose regarding religion. The U.S. Constitution’s church-state separation provisions, they claim, apply only to the federal government.

The bill was introduced on April 1 – but apparently was not an April Fool’s joke. Asserting that “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,” the bill posits that “each state is sovereign and may independently determine how the state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

There is no point in debating the merits of the ludicrous “legal” theory on which this bill is based. There also isn’t much point worrying about whether it will become law any time soon. The legislature is probably not stupid enough to pass it, and the courts would shoot it down anyway. In fact, the bill was referred to the Committee for Rules, Calendar and Operations, where loony bills are typically sent to die.

However, HJR 494 tells us a lot about the people behind the exercise. These people, as it happens, represent a powerful faction within the Republican party of North Carolina – which, as it happens, controls the state government. And here is what should really worry you: the people behind this bill have introduced it because they believe – rightly –  that such posturing will in fact increase their power and popularity among their base.

HJR 494 is interesting because it gives us an insight into what such politicians and their  supporters are thinking. The religious right wing in America frequently tells us that all they are seeking is the freedom to practice their religion. When school boards are asked to refrain from opening meetings with Christian prayers, or when holiday season signs read “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” members of the religious right complain that media and government elites are making them feel bad about their religion. They claim they are being persecuted, and that all they want is to be left alone and granted their constitutional “rights.”

The legal advocacy groups leading the charge, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Liberty Counsel, assert that they are simply “defending religious liberty.” Many of the “fair and balanced” commentators play along with this line. “I think it is wrong for the government to impose its values on religion,” Newt Gingrich recently said on CNN. “That is the whole point of the First Amendment.”

What the North Carolina fiasco shows us, however, is that such claims about “religious freedom” are just posturing. Forget the constitutional niceties. What this faction is telling you is that if you are not a Christian, or if you are not their kind of Christian, you are a second-class citizen. Catholics, Mormons, Episcopalians  — watch out.

We have long heard representatives of the Christian Right tell us that America is a Christian nation. Yes, Christianity, in its many diverse and contradictory forms, is an important part of our history. But now, we know that when such government officials say we live in a “Christian nation,” they are not talking about history. They are talking about the future. And the future they are working toward is theocracy.

There is another myth that this little exercise in legislative futility helps to explode, and that is the idea that the people behind such initiatives, and those who support it, are the “real Americans.” The politicians floating these kinds of ostentatiously pious initiatives assert they represent the will of the heartland – the people responsible for making America great.

But what their bill actually says, quite explicitly, is that they believe the United States Constitution doesn’t apply as soon as you enter North Carolina. They believe states are sovereign entities, and that attempts by the federal judiciary and Congress to impose laws on them with respect to religion are a breach of that sovereignty. Their point is the same one that the South Carolinians made before the Civil War with respect to secession.

These days, we are hearing a lot about the so-called rebranding of the Republican Party, how its leaders are hoping to soften divisive and bigoted speech and broaden its base. There is no evidence of that here. In fact, the plan to turn North Carolina into a sovereign Christian nation-state is as radical as anything that any major party has produced in the U.S. over the past 150 years. Anyone who thinks of its sponsors as “conservative” needs a dictionary. 

Written By: Katherine Stewart
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20 COMMENTS

  1. We were discussing this on this thread:-
    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/4/3/proposal-would-allow-state-religion-in-north-carolina#

    So I think the question I raised there also applies here!

    @OP – But what their bill actually says, quite explicitly, is that they believe the United States Constitution doesn’t apply as soon as you enter North Carolina. They believe states are sovereign entities, and that attempts by the federal judiciary and Congress to impose laws on them with respect to religion are a breach of that sovereignty. Their point is the same one that the South Carolinians made before the Civil War with respect to secession.

    Did these political clowns not swear or sign something upholding laws and constitutional requirements, when standing for , or taking office?

    If they did, and are in violation of their undertaking of allegiance to the constitution(s), can they be impeached or disqualified from office for this?

    If this is a question of legal documentation, it could be easily resolved by identifying illiteracy, incompetent failure to seek advice, or wilful violations.

  2. This is the nullification argument. Civil War resulted last time. But the argument continues to resurface. Does/Will it lead to brain drain from NC, or will freethinkers there stand and fight?

  3. In reply to #4 by groo:

    This is just a cynical bill. It’s authors know it does not have a chance to pass, but will give them credit among the faithful. Just politics.

    Yes, the very worst of what extreme right-wing politics has to offer. This is subversion, plain and simple. In some countries, those people would be arrested for high treason. Legislators who so blatantly attempt to undermine the constitution of their nation should be impeached.

    No wait!… They would have to get caught doing the “cigar thing” with an intern to be eligible for that. Dang!

  4. Either they (politicians) defend the constitution, including the separation of church and state and the implicit freedom from religion which is part of the freedom of religion, or they are traitors and should be prosecuted as such. Most certainly they should publicly be called traitors.

    • In reply to #6 by SomersetJohn:

      Either they (politicians) defend the constitution, including the separation of church and state and the implicit freedom from religion which is part of the freedom of religion, or they are traitors and should be prosecuted as such. Most certainly they should publicly be called traitors.

      That’s a bit harsh. You do know the constitution got to where it is by people challenging it and having it accepted?

      What these fools are doing is flat out contradicting the constitution as a political move, not challenging its concepts. For that they should be found to have violated their oath of office and sacked forthwith.

  5. This is an example of what happens when society “kicks the can down the road”. The issue of the relationship between the federal and state governments was debated when the Constitution was drafted and ratified. The issue continued to fester and resulted in the Civil War and today, we are STILL arguing over it.

    Either the US should do away with state governments (which seem to be more of an anachronistic holdover from the colonial days) or we should disband and become 50 separate countries. This “down the middle” approach is going to unravel.

    • In reply to #7 by Jay G:

      This is an example of what happens when society “kicks the can down the road”. The issue of the relationship between the federal and state governments was debated when the Constitution was drafted and ratified. The issue continued to fester and resulted in the Civil War and today, we are STILL arguing over it.

      Either the US should do away with state governments (which seem to be more of an anachronistic holdover from the colonial days) or we should disband and become 50 separate countries. This “down the middle” approach is going to unravel.

      as I said.. cut them free and see how they like that… they will soon pipe down a bit.. these federal governments are a quaint thing.. I live in Germany now, but have spent most of my life just over the line in Holland.. our southern neighbours, the Belgians, also have a federal government…. nothing but strife between the Wallonian and the Flemish people and there are a lot of voices to tear the country in two and add one half to Holland and the other to France (but the French don´t want Wallonia ;) ) and have Brussels as an apart entity which can then really function as the capital of Yurp…. won´t happen though

  6. As I pointed out on the other thread, this proposal not only violates the U.S. Constitution, but clearly violates their own state constitution. I doubt that the sponsors have read the state constitution–as a matter of fact, I doubt that they can read.

    • They can read the checks they receive from their political donors!

      In reply to #9 by JHJEFFERY:

      As I pointed out on the other thread, this proposal not only violates the U.S. Constitution, but clearly violates their own state constitution. I doubt that the sponsors have read the state constitution–as a matter of fact, I doubt that they can read.

    • In reply to #11 by AnneRoss:

      I find this very disturbing and I hope nothing like this ever happens in Australia.

      Please don’t be too complacent about this. There are definite and publicly expressed desires on the part of at least some leaders of the Moslem community that they be permitted to operate under sharia law and bypass Australian law.
      The desire expressed concerns (initially) law related to domestic issues, not criminal or company etc law. As a very obvious “thin end of a wedge” it should receive a resounding and immediate “no.” Worryingly, it has not.

  7. let them be sovereign.. I mean really sovereign and cut them loose from the rest of the USA… see how quickly the idiots turn their minds round if they receive nothing from the federal government at all..
    rally on the streets of Carolina north and let the word of the atheist go forth…

  8. The problem with the right wing Theocrats is that they do not acknowledge that the constitutional right tot have ‘freedom of religion’ also means for others to have ‘freedom FROM religion’. Any sane person would just have to look at any other theocracies in the world to see how well those systems work. NOT!.

  9. “Imagine an America where, if you want to be a high school principal or you want to run for state office, you have to prove that you’ve been “born again.””

    I thought I’d add this even though they have since decided to nix this bill. In case you were not aware, article 6, section 8 of the NC State constitution contains a “belief in God” test for public office:

    http://www.ncleg.net/Legislation/constitution/article6.html

    I’ve seen it stated that this provision could never hold any water, but to my knowledge it’s never been tested. I only moved here in 2011 so I’m still learning about NC, including just how many misguided people there are who are running our government.

  10. I don’t believe for a second that Newt Gingrich, a former history professor, buys into any of this. In the face of quickly changing demographics, a dying Republican Party is embracing a kind of core principle politics that divides the country in terms like us and them. They should know it’s destroying their party, but they have a radicalized base that some within the party think is revitalizing it. It’s not.

  11. Whether or not it eventually does become law, what is worrying is that they saw fit to table such a motion.

    These are Fundamental Christian Extremeists and are dangerous to humanity.

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