“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
In Missouri, it would be a felony to propose gun control. Oklahoma wants to protect students from science. Really
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants Republicans to stop being the stupid party — but apparently the memo hasn’t gotten out to state legislatures around the country.
February has been a banner month for truly silly and anti-intellectual bills in state capitals across the country. Well, mostly across the South and Midwest. Some of these bills are based on the idea that birth control is poison, and that students should not fail for arguing in biology class that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. Others would stop gun control efforts by making it a felony to try to enact gun control.
This is not the Onion: Here are some of the actual proposals.
1. Let corporations vote!
In Montana, state Rep. Steve Lavin introduced a bill that would allow corporations to vote in local elections, taking the idea that “corporations are people” to new heights.
Think Progress reports that the bill was tabled earlier this month. But under the proposal, “if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote.”
2. Criminalize gun control!
In Missouri, state Rep. Mike Leara believes even proposing gun control should be illegal. So he has proposed legislation that would make it a felony for “any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
“I filed HB 633 as a matter of principle and as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians,” Leara told Buzzfeed. “I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people’s Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
3. Birth control is poison
The full state Senate in Oklahoma will take up a measure to allow companies to strip birth control and abortion coverage from employer healthcare plans under a bill that unanimously cleared the committee level last week.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of state or federal law, no employer shall be required to provide or pay for any benefit or service related to abortion or contraception through the provision of health insurance to his or her employees,” the bill reads.
That would put the law in conflict with the Obamacare provision that mandates contraception coverage in employee group insurance plans, unless the company in question meets the religious organization that qualifies for an exemption.
The state senator who proposed the bill said the idea came from one of his constituents, identified as Dr. Dominic Pedulla. The Tulsa World calls him “an Oklahoma City cardiologist who describes himself as a natural family planning medical consultant and women’s health researcher.” He told the paper he stopped offering his insurance plan because it required contraception coverage.
“Part of (women’s) identity is the potential to be a mother,” Pedulla said. “They are being asked to suppress and radically contradict part of their own identity, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are being asked to poison their bodies.”
4. Read Ayn Rand or stay in high school
The chairman of the education committee in Idaho’s Senate introduced a bill earlier this month that would make students read — and pass a test — on “Atlas Shrugged” as a requirement for a high school diploma.
Then he backed away from the bill, saying he was just trying to make a point. The senator, John Goedde, told the Idaho Spokesman-Review he was “sending a message to the State Board of Education, because he’s unhappy with its recent move to repeal a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school, and with its decision to back off on another planned rule regarding principal evaluations.”
Why that book? It “made my son a Republican,” he said, then adding, “well, he’s not a practicing Republican. But it certainly made him a conservative.”
5. Meanwhile, make the teachers question science
In Kansas, the state Board of Education will vote on new science standards this year, so the legislative jockeying has begun. A bill before the House Education Committee would make schools include evidence against climate change in science classes.
According to the bill, science teachers would be required to “provide information to students of scientific evidence which both supports and counters a scientific theory or hypothesis.”
As the Topeka Capital Journal notes: “The bill says instruction about ‘scientific controversies’ should be objective and include ‘both the strengths and weaknesses of such scientific theory or hypothesis.’ The only controversy identified in the bill is ‘climate science.’”
There is no specific sponsor on the bill, which carries the committee’s name. The committee is controlled by Republicans.
In Oklahoma, however, go right ahead and argue that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time. On a 9-8 vote last week, the Oklahoma Common Education committee approved the so-called Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.
If the bill becomes law, it would make it illegal for biology teachers to fail students who write papers against evolution, climate change and other theories with near 100 percent approval in the scientific community.
“I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” said state Rep. Gus Blackwell to Mother Jones.
By: David Daley, Executive Director, Salon, February 24, 2013
The National Rifle Association is considered one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.
The way it operates — including how it recruits and maintains an active membership — have given it outsize influence over lawmakers at the state and federal level.
Unlike corporate lobbyists, the power of the NRA comes from its massive membership and powerful activist base, as well as from millions of dollars from dues and corporate sponsors.
The gun owners who comprise the NRA are voters who are passionate about firearms, and tend to be fiercely loyal to the organization. The organization coordinates their hunting trips, funds their gun clubs, and teaches their kids how to shoot safely. In turn, the members, coupled with industry supporters, fund the NRA and are ready to mobilize when the group calls on them.
And while other lobbyists usually have rivals, the gun lobby’s opposition doesn’t have anywhere near the strength of support that the NRA has. Chris Cilizza points out that in 2010, the NRA spent more than $240 million more than the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the biggest spender among gun control groups.
Because the NRA is simultaneously a lobbying firm, a campaign operation, a popular social club, a generous benefactor and an industry group, the group is a juggernaut of influence in Washington.
Paul Waldman at The American Prospect observes that Congress sincerely buys into the idea that the NRA is an all-powerful lobby. “Even after one of their own colleagues was shot in the head at a public event,” he said in a New York Times opinion piece, “lawmakers did nothing.”
The NRA’s first foray into politics was the organization’s 1980 endorsement of Ronald Reagan. In 30 years, they’ve built the most feared lobby in D.C. Here’s how they built the pro-gun powerhouse that takes center stage in any discussion of gun control.
“The NRA” is actually around four different organizations that are financially interconnected and maintain common leadership.
- The primary organization is the National Rifle Association of America, a 501(c)4 organization. This is the group that maintains the spokespeople, raises the money, counts the members, recruits volunteers, and raises awareness and encourages the use of firearms. They advertise, hold conventions, convince country singers and actors to raise awareness about gun use, produce training materials and coordinate volunteers.
- Within the National Rifle Association of America is the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. This is the NRA main lobbying and campaign operation. NRA-ILA maintains a staff of lobbyists to support pro-gun legislation, and runs most of the election operations for the organization, producing and buying advertisements in support of pro-gun candidates and against gun control advocates. The NRA-ILA also manages the NRA Political Action Committee, which contributes money directly to candidates.
- The NRA is also connected to a 501(c)3, the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, which does pro-bono legal work for people with cases that have to do with constitutional Second Amendment rights. Essentially, if the CRDF finds a case that could lead to a new interpretation of the Second Amendment, they’ll send in the cavalry and pay the bill. They’re currently litigating cases in 35 states about the right to posses, use, and carry arms.
- In addition, the organization is connected to the NRA Foundation, another 501(c)3 that raises and donates money to hundreds of different causes. In 2010, recipients included hundreds of organizations including outdoors groups, sportsmen’s associations, state Fish & Game departments, ROTC organizations, 4-H groups, Boy Scout councils, and children’s charities. Much of this went to purchasing equipment and training to encourage the recreational use of firearms.
These four different prongs make the NRA one of the most powerful — and rich — groups in D.C.
The NRA is able to maintain and cultivate a vast membership, leading to gains in negotiation ability and funds from membership dues. They’re able to ally with industry and serve as an intermediary between manufacturers and the public.
The NRA-ILA influences legislation and tries to recruit congressional allies to push their goals through by leveraging the massive membership in the NRA. Then, the NRA-CRDF works to expand the interpretation of those laws in the courts. And the NRA Foundation, with funds from some of those corporate donors, recruits new gun users and NRA supporters, loyal new members.
As a result, the organization is fantastically wealthy. According to the most recent available filings with the IRS, in 2010:
- The National Rifle Association of America had total revenue of $227.8 million and assets worth $163 million.
- The NRA Foundation had assets of $80.4 million and raised $21.2 million.
- The CRDF raised $875,500 and has $4.4 million in assets,
- The NRA spent $9.9 million on the NRA-ILA
In 2012 the NRA Institute for Legislative Action spent $7.5 million on federal elections on 66 candidates according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Separately, the NRA PAC spent $9.5 million in the 2012 election.
In essence, it’s a combination of the organizational structure and finances that make the NRA so very powerful in DC.
They’re able to brandish claims of a vast membership, recruited through contributions to local organizations by the Foundation. They’re able to lean on the most ardent supporters, dues-paying members of the National Rifle Association of America. They’re able to raise vast amounts of money from gun manufacturers, distributors, retailers and users.
This combination of legitimate grassroots support, loyal activism and vast amounts money is hard for lawmakers to ignore, particularly if they represent a swing district or state where the NRA wields a significant amount of influence.
By: Walter Hickey, Business Insider, December 18, 2012
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has had a fair amount of success in his first two years implementing a very conservative agenda. Most notably, Brownback’s tax “reform” plan, which sharply cut income taxes on Kansas’ wealthy while punishing the poor, was signed into law in May.
But it apparently wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the right. We talked earlier this week about a group of congressional Republican moderates — an endangered and ineffectual contingent — feeling increasingly frustrated, but reader R.P. flagged an item out of Kansas, where the GOP is actively purging centrists from their midst.
Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP. [...]
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to slash state income taxes.
Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who’s running for the state Senate, told the AP, “If you don’t believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?”
What an illustrative quote. The far right is drawing up the plays, and those who disagree, even a little, ought to be replaced with loyal, almost robotic, teammates who will do what they’re told.
In Kansas, this translates into a series of contentious GOP primaries, which will be held early next week, in which right-wing activists try to replace the moderates (or at least those who seem moderate by 2012 standards) in their midst. This includes, the Republican Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, and several key committee chairs whose fealty to the far-right cause has disappointed the party’s base. The Koch brothers and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are providing the financial resources to fuel the purge.
For his part, Brownback has already turned on many Republican incumbents, throwing his support to primary challengers because the moderates, in his words, help “promote a Democrat [sic] agenda.”
A traditional poli-sci model might suggest this is risky. Most voters consider themselves mainstream and “somewhere in the middle,” and traditionally punish parties that become too extreme.
But in states like Kansas, Republicans figure they have nothing to worry about — the GOP dominates, and winning the primary means winning the seat.
For the activist right, this means there’s very little risk in fighting to replace more reasonable Republicans with ones who’ll mindlessly toe the party line.
In the post-Bush, post-financial-crisis, post-war era, the Republican Party has slowly been confronted with questions about what kind of party it wants to be in the 21st century. It appears the decision has been made: the GOP wants a small, rigid, right-wing party that tolerates very little dissent and even fewer moderates.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 3, 2012
Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate whether the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) should be registered as a lobbyist in the state, according to a letter sent to Common Cause-Minnesota. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has also asked Wisconsin’s ethics board to investigate ALEC’s activities, and this month the Wisconsin Attorney General referred a joint complaint about ALEC’s lobbying — by CMD and Common Cause-Wisconsin — to the state ethics board.
Response to Common Cause’s Complaint in Minnesota
Common Cause-Minnesota filed two requests for investigation in recent months presenting evidence that ALEC lobbies state lawmakers to pass “model legislation” voted on by corporations and legislators at ALEC meetings. The Board has responded to the first complaint, which alleged that despite participating in lobbying, ALEC has failed to register as a lobbying organization. The Board says it “will investigate.”
“Corporations can no longer hide behind ALEC as they try to influence state law behind closed doors,” said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause-Minnesota. “This investigation should expose how ALEC has attempted to avoid laws that regulate lobbyists in Minnesota,” Dean said.
ALEC has come under increased scrutiny in recent months for its role in promoting as a national “model” the Stand Your Ground/Shoot First law cited in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, as well as other bills that make it more difficult for American citizens to vote, for workers to organize and bargain, and for regulatory agencies to protect the environment and health.
Common Cause-Minnesota filed a second complaint with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that, because of ALEC’s substantial lobbying, it is in violation of state laws limiting such activities by charities. To date, Common Cause has filed similar requests for investigation in 37 other states.
On May 17, Common Cause-Wisconsin and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a similar letter with Wisconsin’s Attorney General requesting an investigation into whether ALEC’s lobbying activities violate its charitable status, which was referred in part to the state ethics board. The letter was filed as part of a larger report detailing how ALEC facilitates corporate influence in the state, and counting more than 32 bills or budget provisions introduced in the 2011-2012 session reflecting ALEC model legislation. That report, “ALEC Exposed in Wisconsin: The Hijacking of State,” can be viewed here.
GAB Investigation in Wisconsin
Earlier this year, CMD requested that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) determine that ALEC’s so-called “scholarship program” violates state ethics and lobbying laws.
In a complaint filed March 23, CMD described how the program allows global corporations to pay for ALEC member legislators’ travel to resorts for ALEC meetings, which would appear to violate Wisconsin laws prohibiting elected officials from accepting anything of value — even a cup of coffee — from corporations that employ lobbyists in the state. CMD also noted that while at ALEC meetings, legislators are offered invitations to corporate-sponsored receptions and given additional gifts like free tickets to the party box at a major league baseball game. CMD named all known Wisconsin ALEC members in the request because complete records about which lawmakers accepted these gifts in recent years are not publicly available.
ALEC subsequently disclosed that in 2010, it had asked the GAB to sanction these corporate-funded gifts, but offered a description of the so-called “scholarship” program contradicted by ALEC’s own bylaws, by ALEC’s filings with the IRS, and by other documents. CMD documented these contradictory claims in another letter filed in April.
Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), who is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and IT Task Force, sought to distance himself from the program, declaring that he had never received an ALEC “scholarship” and asking that he be dropped from the complaint. CMD applauded Senator Wanggaard’s acknowledgement through his actions that receiving corporate-funded flights and hotel rooms could compromise a legislator’s official judgment.
The Wisconsin GAB has acknowledged receipt of CMD’s complaint but is prohibited by law from commenting on the status of an investigation.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, May 30, 2012