Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Rowan County Defense of Religion Act

On Tuesday, April 2nd, Carl Ford and Harry Warren, North Carolina representatives for Rowan County, put forth House Joint Resolution 494, the "Rowan County Defense of Religion Act." Here is the pertinant portion of the resolution:

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.

Cue the hysterics. National news agencies report this as an attempt to establish a state religion, but according to Charlotte news site, this bill is a bit of braggadocio, a reaction against an ACLU lawsuit that attempts to bar the Rowan County commissioners from starting their meetings with a prayer to Dear Lord Baby Jesus.

So this is yet another temper-tantrum, another example of neighbors behaving badly and wanting to have their own way all the time. But I wonder if Ford and Warren thought this through enough to see that their interpretation of state's rights is actually attacking their own party and religion here.In the best Tea Party tradition, representatives Ford and Warren are attempting to remove a right of jurisdiction from the most remote level (the federal government) and bring it down to the regional level (the state government). But what Ford and Warren's bill actually does is to remove a right of jurisdiction from the most local level (the individual American citizen) and pass it up to the regional level-- the state.

Federal laws prohibiting states from establishing a state religion don't exist to dictate how citizens must live; those laws exist to preserve the basic liberty of conscience that belongs to all people. Once upon a time, colonies had the right to establish a state religion, to transmit that religion in schools, and to define the public and private observance of religion by their citizens. Christians like Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, and Roger Williams had taxes levied against them and were tried, imprisoned, exiled and sometimes executed because they refused to submit to the rule of a state religion.

No, Ford and Warren are not calling for athiests and Muslims to be executed in Rowan County. But they need to brush up on their history, calm down, and not make a stink about their perceived right to pray in public as representative lawmakers who were elected by a Christian majority. Ford and Warren represent a particular chunck of their constituents to the state, and in turn they are the face of the state turned back to their constituents. 

Maybe the problem lies in the fact that this is a small-town group of commissioners who see themselves as concerned private citizens who need the law to protect their freedoms from state infringement, instead of seeing themselves as the people who are in power, the people who do the infringing, the people from whom private citizens need to be protected.

They need to recognize that the collective moral vision of the county commission, the state, or the nation must always respect the religious integrity of the non-represented citizen-- in this case, their non-Christian constituents. And if Ford, Warren, and the Rowan County commission want to begin each day with a prayer to Jesus, they should do it at home, in their cars, with their families, on one of Ford's radio stations, anywhere that they can do it as private citizens.

1 comment:

  1. It’s interesting that so many of our elected representatives ignore so much of history; that they would indeed outright ignore one of the very tenets of freedom that this country fought a revolutionary war in order to obtain. It is especially interesting that those representatives reside in a state that is the home to not only the very first English colony, but the very first battle of the Revolutionary War. Further, how any educated, reasonable person can honestly come to the conclusion that their religion should be the official, mandated faith, and therefore supersede all other forms of law, in the twenty first century is, frankly, ludicrous. A state recognizing one religion as greater than others can only lead to strife (and quite probably violence, considering this particular geographic region’s track record), and as such is a serious danger to the common good as well as a direct infringement upon the liberty and freedom of the American people to believe or not to believe as they wish. Unequivocally, the founders of this nation understood this, which can be evidenced by the fact that it is the very first line of the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights. Granted the wrong people can often obtain positions of disproportionate power and bring about unwanted policies (for a plethora of reasons), but this particular act defines the kind of infringement that the constitution explicitly protects against and I cannot understand why anyone, even those people of the christian persuasion, could support this kind of tyranny (sorry to use a buzzword here, but by definition, this act is tyrannical) in direct opposition to the wisdom of history and concrete facts of reality.