Church And State

Religious Liberty In North Carolina

Republican legislators in the state of North Carolina have recently proposed a bill that would allow the state to declare an official religion on the grounds that the First Amendment to the US Constitution doesn’t apply to the state since the states are sovereign within their own right.  In shorter form, they declare they are exempt from the Constitution and subsequent court rulings via the Tenth Amendment.  The text of the North Carolina bill is as follows: (official document)

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.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; […]”  The Founding Fathers established the First Amendment so that the citizens of the new nation would be able to worship freely without government intervention and to make sure that government and religion didn’t intermingle as they did in England (i.e. The Church of England).  However, that didn’t apply to the states.  As the amendment actually states, it’s Congress that can’t make any such laws.  It doesn’t mention the states.  Originally, this was interpreted to mean that only Congress could not pass such legislation and that individual states could do as they so chose to.  In fact, when the First Amendment was ratified, several states had already established an official religion.  All of these state religions would be disestablished by 1833.

Flag_of_North_Carolina.

In Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment had extended the reach of certain limitations on the federal government that were established in the First Amendment applied to state governments as well.  It became the legal precedent at this point that it wasn’t just Congress that couldn’t pass such laws, but the states couldn’t do so either.  However, it was Everson v. Board of Education (1947) that would transform the interpretation of the First Amendment.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was binding upon the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote the following:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.'” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.

So what about the Tenth Amendment as claimed by the legislators in North Carolina?  The amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  It is just as it states and has been interpreted.  States are sovereign and have certain rights delegated to them so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of the federal government set forth in the Constitution and its subsequent amendments.  This also applies to the personal rights that were established by the Bill of Rights.

signingdecWhen dealing with such topics as the freedom of religion, the overused quote about the separation of church and state comes into play.  However, the Constitution does not specifically use those words.  However, it is how the First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court starting with the Everson ruling.  In the majority opinion, Justice Black used the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the words in reference to the First Amendment in 1802.  Jefferson, who was a Southerner and one of the biggest advocates for states’ rights, wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

The state legislators in North Carolina should possibly do a review of early American history and learn why the Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, distrusted establishing official state religions.  Jefferson wrote to the Assembly of Virginia in 1779, “[That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time […]”  He would continue, “[T]hat to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own […]”  Jeffersonian Republicans were those that advocated for limited federal government and more for states’ rights, and yet here Thomas Jefferson himself is advocating that no government (federal or state) should have the right to declare an official religion, and that we should all be just as the First Amendment states… free to worship however we choose.  In looking back on how the interpretation of the First Amendment has changed through history, one must tend to lean toward the conclusion that the courts wouldn’t allow this bill in North Carolina (should it be passed) to be enforced on the grounds of the First Amendment.

SIDENOTE:
The North Carolina state constitution did prohibit anyone that didn’t believe in God from public office.  However, such bans were ruled unconstitutional in Turcaso v. Watkins (1961).

Advertisements

Don’t Say It

It’s my second entry in less than a week to rant on my home state of Missouri.  Once again, I find it absolutely incredible that our legislators would waste time with this particular issue when they complain that we aren’t creating jobs quickly enough.  Let’s put two and two together here.  This time, though, this issue is more near and dear to my heart, so I cannot afford to sit back quietly.  Not this time.  Something must be said… especially for those that have no voice.

The legislation in question is House Bill 2051 (HB2051… otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) and is sponsored by Representative Steve Cookson, with the backing of both the current Speaker, Steven Tilley and the Speaker-Elect, Tim Jones.  HB2051 has been referred to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, and isn’t on the calendar for the committee as of yet.  But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.  The legislation has to deal with the LGBT community… and even more importantly, it has to do with LGBT youth.  And at a time when LGBT suicides seem to be running rampant, this particular legislation does not help.  The text of it is short, but it reaches far beyond.

170.370. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.

My first question is how is this even legal?  How is it not a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution?  The government does not have the right to tell us what we can and cannot talk about, and it can’t make up laws that do.  What’s next?  Are they going to tell us what we can think about?  I could see a private school doing something of this nature, but for the public schools that are supported by taxpayer dollars… again, this cannot be even close to legal.  This is another case of the Republicans in the state of Missouri trying to demote part of its population to second-class citizens because they’re afraid of the “homosexual agenda.”  But this is a bunch of BS.  Legislation such as HB2051 is nothing short than a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach.  The Republicans in the state legislature believe that if the youth can’t talk about their homosexual tendencies/feelings, then they won’t give in to them.  They won’t be encouraged.  Unfortunately, the majority of the people that support legislation like this don’t know what they are talking about.  Someone either is or isn’t gay.  It doesn’t matter if it’s encouraged or not.  It is already something that is inside them.  No amount of legislation by the government (any government) will make that go away.  All it will end up doing is isolating a vital, productive, and creative part of our overall community.

Our youth will be the most adversely affected by such legislation as it is targeting them and the schools they go to.  Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs will be prohibited, and faculty and administrators will be forbidden to talk about anything dealing with sexual orientation… even if a student needs someone to talk to about it or even if a student is reporting a case of bullying.  Growing up, I was often teased throughout school.  Not for being gay but for basically being more of the nerdy type.  I know how it can make one feel.  Sometimes, I young person just needs someone to sit and listen… and to care.  And as we grow into young adults and starts dealing with more “adult-type” of situations, we need those people more and more.  We are often very careful about who we confide in, as well.  We want to make sure that it is a person that we can lean on.  For some, that particular person is a teacher.  And if this bill is put into law, that teacher won’t even be able to help even if he/she is the only person that kid or young adult feels like he/she can talk to.  It is just shameful.  And it hurts me to my core that our young people are made to feel more alone and more isolated at a time in their lives when they should be embraced and loved.

Missouri is not the first state to attempt a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  The state of Tennessee voted several times last year on a similar bill, but it drew national ridicule that even came from the state’s Republican Governor.  The Tennessee bill eventually failed… though the state is trying again this year with an identical bill.  And now the state of Missouri is trying.  Apparently, the dumbasses who thought this thing up didn’t think this through very much.  Are they trying to prove that they are more conservative that the Republicans in Tennessee?  Is there a special prize at the end for them?  Well maybe on that last one… re-election by the same crazy voters that allow them to do dumbass things like this.  Again, it’s these same Republican legislators that say that we have fallen behind in creating jobs… that new businesses and new people are not moving to the state.  Yet, they can’t seem to make the correlation that it’s stupid stuff like this that makes Missouri a less-desirable place to live.  People tend not to want to live in a state that is trying to revert itself back to the 1850s (or even the 1950s).  This is the 21st century, and again, the people in Jefferson City need to pull their head out of their asses long enough to actually see the real world.  I know it might seem scary to them at first, but it will subside.

The consequences of such a bill needs to be thought through.  We’re isolating our youth.  We are isolating a part of our community.  Is that really a wise thing to do.  Regardless of our religious beliefs (and yes, I am a Christian), no one deserves treatment like this.  The legislators in Missouri need to realize this first and foremost.  They do not have the right to tell us how to live our lives, nor do they have the right to tell us what type of people we should be.  We are all different and unique, and we should all be embraced.  Even though I have been quite harsh on the legislators in this entry, I am trying my best to go after their actions. Afterall, hate only begets more hate.  I don’t mind when people think differently, it’s just when they act upon those thoughts and try to make others feel inferior… or in this case, feel like second-class citizens and that something is wrong with them.  The LGBT youth are simply amazing, and I think quite brave for all they have to endure at such a young age.  The bullying must stop… not only within our schools but from our government, too.  And if want a state that attracts businesses and new people, then we must stop writing BS legislation like this that makes people believe that Missouri is an ass-backwards state.  Let us move forward.  Let us work together to build a state that embraces everyone instead of isolating.  And let us work together to teach our youth to be good citizens and to be proud of who they are.  I think the youth of our state could teach some of the Missouri legislators a few lessons.  Afterall, to love thy neighbor means to embrace and accept them.

“Homosexuality, is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”  Plato~

INFORMATION:
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 1-866-4-U-Trevor (1-866-488-7386).  You can also click on the link for The Trevor Project.

For those living in the state of Missouri wishing to contact their Representative regarding HB2051, please click Here for the directory.

PREVIOUS ENTRY:
From The Shadows

Islamophobia in America

It happened in New York City.  A man got into a cab and after going a few blocks asked the driver if he was a Muslim.  When the driver confirmed that he was, the passenger began to repeatedly stab him.  The driver did have several cuts, but was able to get the cab pulled over and lock the assailant inside.  Luckily, the driver, who has been in the country for more than 25-years and has raised his family here in that time, was not killed.  And this all ties into a recent Time magazine headline that asks, “Does America Have a Problem with Islam?”

This entire situation has been thrust into the news lately because of a plan to build a mosque/Islamic cultural center 2 blocks from Ground Zero.    The two sides in that debate are religious freedom vs. Ground Zero being sacred and building a mosque within sight of it is an insult to those who died.  Now I do agree that Ground Zero is sacred and hollowed ground.  But once you get off the site, how far must a Muslim go before they are free to worship?  If two blocks isn’t enough, then is three or four?  How about the other side of Manhattan or maybe in a different county or a different state?  Where is this magical line that is drawn?  And why is it that one important piece of information has been lost within the debate of this…. that Muslims have been worshiping in the current building on the site for almost a year now without so much as a peep from the general public.  It’s only been since the announcement of tearing down the current building and replacing it with one that looks much nicer and is better suited to fit the needs of that niche of the community.  Now I add that it would be nice, and a great show of respect to the overall community, if the Imam would reveal where the funding came for this new building… so we could be assured that it does not have ties to Islamic extremists.

The attacks on September 11, 2001, have greatly changed how we Americans view those of the Islamic faith.  In a recent Time-abt SRBI poll, 46% of Americans believe Islam, more than any other faith, encourages violence against nonbelievers… and only 37% actually know a Muslim-American.  So does the second number in the poll relate to the first one?  Of course it does.  The more we tend to know about people, the more we tend to understand them.  As a young man, fresh out of college, I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of Muslim-Americans.  This was after the 9/11 attacks, as well.  But it gave me a chance to get to know these individuals and the knowledge I gained is insurmountable.  And these individuals/former colleagues have no idea how much their actions shaped how I view the overall big picture.

We tend to forget that it was not Muslims… or people of the Islamic faith… that attacked the United States on 9/11.  It was Muslim extremists that attacked us.  And there is a huge difference between the two things.  One could say that Muslims celebrated the terrorist attacks… and that is probably true in Muslim nations where we have interfered in their internal matters for our own personal gains.  But in this nation, most Muslim-Americans were horrified by the attacks that day and were right there with the rest of us arm-in-arm (shoulder-to-shoulder) ready to hunt down those that would dare attack us.  They cried along with us over the loss of their family members, friends, and colleagues… and I’m not referring to the hijackers either.

When does it become acceptable to blame and punish everyone of a particular community or faith for the actions of a limited number of extremists?  My answer to this…never.  Some might say that we can’t tell the difference between those that worship Islam peacefully and the extremists who want to kill all who don’t agree with them.  And that would be correct.  However, if I suddenly walked up to you during World War II and started speaking German, one would not know that I’m an American simply because there is no visual difference between us.

And something else that I’ve noticed that I want to raise a question on.  Is there really a difference between Christian extremists and Islamic extremists?  Having heard propaganda from both sides, my answer is ‘not at all’.  In fact, I wouldn’t put it past an extremist Christian to launch a major attack against a Muslim nation or the people of the Islamic faith.  And one can’t look at history and say that a Christian would never do such a thing.  Where was such an outcry when Timothy McVeigh, who wasn’t a Muslim or an Islamic extremist, blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City?  Back when the Catholic Church pretty much controlled Christianity, one must only think of the Crusades and even the Inquisition.  Even when the Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution in Great Britain, they still managed to persecute anyone that didn’t share their beliefs and kick them out of the Plymouth colony… which is oddly enough how the settlement in what is now Providence, Rhode Island got started.

We must remember that there are extremists in all the religions… those that would take things to the far extreme because someone else doesn’t agree with them.  We are supposed to be a nation founded on religious tolerance… so where has that gone?  Why is the general American populace unwilling to allow peaceful, law-abiding Muslim-Americans to worship freely as those same people allow us to do?  The attacks on 9/11 did show us a couple of things.  First, they showed us the lengths religious extremists will go to.  They have opened our eyes to the broader picture.  Unfortunately, most people are only tending to look at that half of the larger picture rather than the entire thing.  And second, it has brought out the signs of religious divide and that something is wrong if it is different than the social, or religious norm.  Former Speak of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich recently compared Islam with Nazism.  I would have to disagree with the former Speaker.  It is the American masses that are starting to act more Nazi… whereas it must be Christian and Aryan or it’s wrong and must be eliminated or at least segregated from normal life.  Most Americans would want everyone to think that it’s an “us vs. them” mentality, but it’s more along the lines of “us vs. ourselves.”  We must learn that there is a difference out there in the real world amongst things and that not all people get drafted into one complete category or another.  Stereotypes are the root of all hatred and evil and somewhere along the lines, a civilized person must be willing to say enough is enough.

%d bloggers like this: