It’s a hard time to be a North Carolinian if you have a single progressive bone in your body.
There’s a new voter ID bill, for example, to address a problem that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the bill’s primary purpose is to make it more difficult for population groups more likely to vote for Democrats to get to the polls, cementing Republican control of their already-gerrymandered districts.
Legislators are also working to repeal the Racial Justice Act, which calls for a review of death penalty cases in which it can be shown that race played a role in the final decision. The senate has already voted to repeal the act, showing a hard-hearted and racist-tinged cynicism that fails to recognize that black defendants have been far more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants.
The most egregiously ridiculous of recent moves, however, was a resolution by two Rowan County legislators — cosigned by 11 others — asserting that North Carolina has the right to establish a state religion. The resolution was a reaction to a lawsuit against the practice of regularly opening Rowan County Commission meetings with specifically Christian prayers. Sponsors said they just wanted to support the Rowan County Commissioners and never intended to establish a state religion, but the text of the resolution clearly claimed that that they could.
The “logic” of the resolution, claiming that the 10th amendment gives the states power to disregard the first amendment and that states have the right to ignore federal rulings, is specious on the face of it and in barefaced violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The ramifications of the resolution are more troubling. The United States was created as a haven for people seeking religious freedom from state churches, and the country’s founders were wise enough to establish a firm separation between church and state. In his response to the audacious action, David Stratton provides a helpful history lesson I’d encourage you to read.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty responded to the bill with the following statement:
The Baptist Joint Committee works daily to protect religious liberty for ALL. While some issues are difficult, the question of whether the U.S. Constitution’s religion protections apply to the states is not one of them. Most Americans appreciate religious freedom and are thankful for our constitutional tradition that protects both the free exercise of religion and guards against its establishment. While legislative prayer (using a government forum to exercise religion) is controversial, government declaring an official state religion is off the charts.
And the resolution really was off-the-charts ridiculous, but that’s what happens when ideologues find themselves in power: bad ideas grow like crabgrass in the spring. Thankfully, the measure was killed in committee April 4, and one of its sponsors has even apologized for being party to such embarrasingly poor legislation.
If nothing else, let us hope that the rash of bad governance will awaken voters, who (provided they have a legislated photo ID), can elect more rational officials the next time around.