Where I’m from – Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina – is still a mystery location, but it is on a map.
Two weeks ago, a suit was filed against the county commissioners because they open every meeting with a prayer to Jesus. In response, Rowan County’s two state legislators proposed a “Defense of Religion Act.” A dozen legislators joined as co-sponsors.
Within minutes, we were national news. Huffington Post. NPR. Jon Stewart. The BBC. Stephen Colbert. The media said that North Carolina wanted to declare that Christianity was the state religion. One legislator remarked that he didn’t know that he’d be famous by the end of the day.
Our commissioners believe Jesus leads them to the right decisions, regardless of the Constitution. Their solution is to discard the Constitution.
Their resolution begins by suggesting that the First Amendment does not apply to states, municipalities or schools. Sweeping aside the Fourteenth Amendment adopted in 1868, our legislators said that the federal courts had [wrongly] required the states to follow the First Amendment. The resolution also proclaims that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the states because the Tenth Amendment delegated power to the states.
The resolution flatly states that the Constitution does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what was constitutional or not even though that is exactly what Marbury v. Madison held in 1803 in surely the most famous and important Supreme Court case in history. It’s no secret. It’s in every U.S. history and civics book ever written. Marbury established the role of each of the three branches of government and how they serve as a system of checks and balances on each other.
Having tossed aside the First Amendment and the federal courts, the resolution concludes that government officials can do whatever they want with religion because they are also private citizens.
Hence, it asks the North Carolina General Assembly to assert that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the state from establishing a religion and that North Carolina is not subject to federal court rulings.
After a day of howling, the legislators withdrew their resolution as “poorly written . . . and ambiguous.” Meanwhile, gigantic billboards in yellow and red are sprouting up around my county shouting, “Keep Praying Commissioners . . . in Jesus’s Name, Amen.”