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Next stage in the culture war: official state religions

North Carolina State Capitol Building
North Carolina State Capitol Buildingrustyrust1996/Flickr

Let's see, we're just a few months into 2013 -- a year following campaigns in which social issues hurt the GOP -- and we've already seen Republican policymakers ban abortion rights, reject marriage equality, go after contraception access, target Planned Parenthood, and go after sex-ed.

What else is there? Wait, I know, how about an effort to empower state lawmakers to declare an official religion, shamelessly thumbing its nose at the Constitution?

A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide. [...]

House Bill 494, a resolution filed by Republican Rowan County Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, would refuse to acknowledge the force of any judicial ruling on prayer in North Carolina – or indeed on any Constitutional topic:

"The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people," the bill states.

Got that? These North Carolina Republicans are arguing, with a straight face, that U.S. courts can't decide what's constitutional under the U.S. Constitution. They're also arguing that the First Amendment doesn't apply to North Carolina, so they're free to make their faith the official religion on their state.

It's the 21str century. I just thought I should mention that.

Also note, while every state legislature will have random nutballs introducing some ridiculous proposals every year, this plan has nine co-sponsors. That's not enough to represent a serious threat, at least not yet, but it's nine too many.

The hyper-radical philosophy behind proposals like these have an ugly pedigree.

Catawba College politics Professor Michael Bitzer told the Post it reminded him of the ideology that many Southern states turned to after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating public school integration.

"They basically want to ensure that a long line of U.S. Supreme Court rulings have no validity either here in Rowan County or here in the entire state," Bitzer said. "They're basing it on – to put it mildly – discredited legal theory that the states can deny the power of the federal government within their jurisdiction."

Gary Freeze, a history and politics professor at Catawba College, told the newspaper the bill verged on being "neo-secessionist."

Even by 2013 standards, this is scary stuff.