“A Shameful Waste Of Taxpayer Money”: North Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Law To Establish An Official State Religion
What is it about GOP state legislators that drives them to create laws that have no hope of surviving constitutional scrutiny yet always succeed in running up millions in legal fees to be paid by taxpayers on the way to failure?
And why is it that these same lawmakers are always among the ones crying foul when taxpayer money is spent on things such as healthcare for children or food stamps for the hungry but gladly blow big money on useless challenges to the United States Constitution?
Apparently, helping kids and seniors get needed healthcare is a shameful waste of taxpayer money while paying lawyers big money to pursue hopeless cases that only serve to further political careers is both noble and enlightening.
Over the past few years, red state after red state has taken to passing anti-abortion laws designed to subvert the Supreme Court’s judgment in Roe v. Wade—despite the reality that these state laws, on their face, clearly violate the law.
Recently, many have watched in amazement as Mississippi legislators filed a piece of legislation that would establish a state committee empowered to decide which federal laws the state will agree to follow and which ones they will chose to ignore. According to these Mississippi state lawmakers, they possess the power to ignore any federal law they wish as a result of their state sovereignty—despite a United States Constitution that clearly says otherwise.
But now, in what can only be seen as the coup de grâce in a Republican rebellion against the U.S. Constitution which is sweeping the nation, legislators in North Carolina are preparing to take on one of the most fundamental notions upon which our nation was founded—the freedom of religion and the importance of that pesky wall that separates church and state.
Meet North Carolina Representatives Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), the primary sponsors of a bill introduced into the state’s General Assembly that would clear the way for the state to adopt an official, state religion.
The proposed law, introduced earlier this week, states that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment—which prohibits Congress from passing laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion in America—simply does not apply to the states. The bill goes on to proclaim the sovereignty of the states in this matter while proclaiming that each state is free to make its own laws respecting an establishment of an official religion and that such an establishment cannot be blocked by either Congress or the judiciary.
If you are of the mind that these North Carolina lawmakers have it right, allow me to introduce you to Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the three-pronged test—called “The Lemon Test”— for determining when a state has run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:
- The law or state policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose.
- The principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.
- The statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.
Clearly, there is no way that a state can create an ‘official’ religion without going very wrong when it comes to meeting The Lemon Test as established by the highest court in the land.
We should not be overly surprised that such an effort to ‘break’ the Constitution—not to mention the will of the Founders—should come from the state of North Carolina. This is the same state that continues to have a provision in its State Constitution requiring that nobody may run for a public office in the state unless that candidate affirmatively states his or her belief in God. Never mind that such a requirement is, again, in direct contradiction to the U. S. Constitution’s prohibition against religion as a prerequisite for serving in public office or the many writings of the Founders expressing their strong feelings against religion as a disqualifying factor for holding office.
And never mind that North Carolina has never removed this requirement from their Constitution despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) which held that such a law violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It was in the Torcaso case that the Court wrote—
“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”
So, is this latest effort to subvert a fundamental premise upon which this nation was founded simply the work of a few misguided public officials in North Carolina looking to score some points with the electorate?
Sadly, it is not.
Joining in the fun, as a co-sponsor of the bill allowing North Carolina to establish an official state religion, is one of the most powerful members of the North Carolina General Assembly, GOP Majority Leader Edgar Starnes. Apparently, expecting a leader in so important a role to show some fealty to the law and the legal underpinnings of the nation is asking a bit too much when compared to the opportunity provided that elected official to score a few political points.
I would call these ‘cheap’ political points but there is nothing cheap about the bills the state will rack up as they work to move their faulty legislation up to the United States Supreme Court in order to make their point.
For me, the overriding question presented by this latest effort to subvert the Constitution is just how long it will take for those who self-identify as strict constitutionalist—typically people who also identify as Republicans—to understand that their taxpayer dollars are being squandered by the millions by their elected officials.
When public servants have come to the point where they are desirous of turning their backs on citizens of their state whom may not subscribe to the same religious beliefs of those elected officials, we are on the road to an America that the Founders would neither recognize nor approve.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, April 3, 2013
The culture wars are back and this time the left is winning.
More than anything else, the rapid growth in support for gay marriage illustrates the changes in American culture and politics. We are living in a completely different society than we were in the 1980′s and 1990′s. The boomers are on their way out, taking their conservative stands with them, and the millennials are proudly marching in, progressive views in hand.
There was a time when Democrats lived in constant fear of “Guns, God and Gays.” Now it’s the Republicans’ turn to worry as larger numbers of Americans support gay marriage, immigration reform and gun control. The GOP will have to come up with a new formula to win campaigns or the party will become irrelevant. Adapt or die!
Now it’s time for Republicans to fear the culture wars just as Democrats did in the 1980′s and 1990′s. Last week, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio switched his position to support gay marriage. Even Democrats in red states like Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Kay Hagen of North Carolina have seen the light and now support same-sex marriage.
In 2003, according to an ABC News/Washington poll, a majority of Americans opposed gay marriage by a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent. Ten years later, most Americans are onboard with same sex nuptials and the numbers are exactly the opposite of what they were in 2003. In the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, four of every five (81 percent) Americans under 30 favor gay marriage. As the millennial generation becomes a greater and greater proportion of the population and the electorate, opposition to gay marriage will get even smaller. In a CBS News survey of American Catholics, three out of five (62 percent) of the faithful support gay marriage.
A majority of Americans now support gun control and immigration reform. In the new ABC News/Washington Post survey, nine in ten Americans (91 percent) favor background checks on gun purchases and a clear majority (57 percent favor to 41 percent oppose) supports a ban on assault weapons. A new survey by the Public Religion Research institute indicates at six in ten (61 percent) Americans want undocumented aliens to get legal status.
The left may be winning battles on most of the fronts in the culture wars, but there is one issue that has put progressives on the defensive. Public support for Roe v Wade remains high, but state governments in the West and in the South have made it more difficult for women to make decisions about their own bodies.
According to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute a clear majority (56 percent legal to 38 percent illegal) of Americans want abortion to be legal all or most of the time. The states of North Dakota and Arkansas have both enacted laws that strictly limit abortions. Both laws violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and federal courts will probably nullify them.
It will be difficult for the GOP to cope with the new social order. Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus has been beat up by conservatives since he released a study last week that called for the GOP to moderate its issue stands to become politically effective. This week, Priebus felt the heat from the extremists in his party and he backtracked and said the GOP will still have the same agenda which was the party platform adopted at the 2012 national convention.
If the chairman was referring to the platform that calls for outlawing all abortions without any exceptions, the GOP will be spending the next generation in the deep freeze of the political Arctic.
By: Brad Bannon, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, April 1, 2013
As commentators begin to run out of words to speculate about the murky maneuverings of the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage issues as reflected in oral arguments, it’s occurring to some to compare and contrast the trajectories of law and public opinion on gay marriage and that other hardy perennial of the Culture Wars, abortion.
At Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff sums up the anomaly:
Tuesday marked for a watershed day for gay rights activists as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case with the potential to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
Across the country and 1,500 miles west of Washington, an equally notable event took place: North Dakota enacted the country’s most restrictive abortion law, barring all procedures after six weeks.
For decades, support (or opposition) for gay marriage and abortion went hand in hand. They were the line-in-the-sand “values” issues that sharply divided the political parties.
Not anymore. ”As recently as 2004, we talked about abortion and same sex marriage in the same breath,” says Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute. “They were the values issues. Now, it doesn’t make sense to lump them together anymore. We’ve seen a decoupling.”
Actually, I beg to differ in part: abortion policy is, more than ever, a reliable and quasi-universal item that divides the two major political parties.
What’s different is that there’s no clear generational trend on abortion that makes the conservative and Republican position doomed, as Kliff notes:
Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights. Young Americans’ views on same-sex unions look nothing like previous generations. But when it comes to abortion rights, Millennials look a lot more lilke their parents.
Millennials, PRRI has found, have similar views to the general population on the morality and legality of abortion. Fifty-two percent of the general public thinks abortion is “morally wrong.” Among Millennials, that number stands at 50 percent. Fifty-six percent of all Americans think abortion ought to be legal, compared to 60 percent of the younger crowd.
In terms of state activity, the irony is that a development adverse to the anti-choicers–President Obama’s re-election–is partially responsible for the wild competition Republican legislators around the country have been undertaking to enact the most irresponsible and–under existing precedents–blatantly unconstitutional abortion restrictions. Now that they’ve been denied a Romney presidency where Supreme Court appointments would be carried out under a strict anti-choice litmus test, abortion-rights foes have clearly decided to initiate a challenge that will test the commitment to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey of the existing Court–and particularly its erratic “swing vote,” Justice Kennedy, who opened the door to new abortion restrictions in his bizarre opinion in a 2007 decision upholding a federal ban on so-called “partial-birth-abortion.”
When North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed that batch of radical bills on abortion yesterday, he might as well have been holding up a big sign reading: “Hey, Anthony Kennedy! These bills are for you!” So I wouldn’t be surprised if abortion is the big issue in oral arguments before the Supremes next year or the year after that.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 27, 2013
We’re still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.
In recent weeks Republican state legislators have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in “Roe v. Wade,” which gave women the right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception. Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception.
The morality brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born. They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools.
The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.
Meanwhile, the morality brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.
Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.
Conservative moralists don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.
Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.
Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizen’s United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.
A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government. Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson —seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.
They didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.
Yet where is the morality brigade when it comes to these moves to take over our democracy?
Among the worst violators of public morality have been executives and traders on Wall Street.
Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012.
This is the same JPMorgan that’s lead the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.
Lobbyists for the giant banks have been systematically taking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.
The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits – itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act – still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank – expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e., JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.
Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.
And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008. Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.
Why doesn’t the morality brigade complain about the rampant greed on the Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?
What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
But what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business. Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 25, 2013
However the Supreme Court rules on the question of gay marriage, Prop 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA, as it’s widely known), the rapid shifts in how the country views same sex marriages is giving the GOP a case of political whiplash, as some leaders try to go with the flow and others scream “stop.”
On the one hand you have Karl Rove envisioning a pro-gay-marriage Republican presidential nominee in three years; on the other, you have former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee predicting a cataclysmic split in the Republican Party if that happens. If Republicans do flip on gay marriage, Huckabee said last week, “they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk.”
So the immediate question facing conservatives is what outcome they should be quietly rooting for when the Supreme Court hands down its decisions. I think Hot Air’s Allahpundit has it about right:
I’ve read a bunch of pieces lately claiming that SCOTUS striking down gay-marriage laws will actually be a gift to GOP politicians because it’ll take this issue off the table. Rubio and Paul and Jindal et al. won’t have to squirm over whether to endorse SSM, back a federalist approach to the issue, or oppose it on the merits. They can just shrug and say “The Court was wrong but whaddaya gonna do?” and move on to other business. Take it from Huckabee: That won’t happen. Abortion’s technically been “off the table” for 40 years and yet it’s still an absolute litmus test for any potential GOP nominee (and any potential Democratic nominee too).
He goes on to argue that the best case for Republicans is for the court to hold up Prop 8, allowing pols to oppose it but say it should be up to the states. (It’s a rule of politics that in most cases when federal candidates insist a tough issue be left up to the states, they’re trying to avoid pissing off an important constituency.) Note that the “best outcome” is still pretty bad for the GOP: Young voters, who overwhelmingly favor gay marriage, and—oh yeah—voted in greater numbers in 2012 than seniors, will see through a pol trying to play both sides of the issue.
It’s also worth noting here that the Roe parallel works, but only to a point. As Media Matters’s Lara Schwartz wrote yesterday, the notion that the 40-year-old decision polarized the issue is nonsensical. As Yale Law School’s Linda Greenhouse (who used to cover the court for the New York Times) and Reva Siegel relate, “To the question of whether one can avoid conflict over such issues by avoiding courts, the answer from an accurate pre-history of Roe v. Wade is: no. The abortion conflict escalated before the Supreme Court ruled.”
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 26, 2013