State, Church Or State Church

The Preamble to the North Carolina State Constitution goes like this:

We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution.

That’s pretty standard stuff in America.  God is great, he gave us our freedom, and we are counting on him to keep blessing us with that freedom. But just in case he forgets or gets busy slaughtering people, we are establishing a Constitution.

In Article VI, Section 8 (“Disqualifications for office”) of the document we find this:

The following persons shall be disqualified for office:

First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if God is the “Sovereign Ruler of Nations” and he gave folks their freedom and they are “dependent” on him to keep it, then of course they ought to pay him the courtesy of believing in him. It’s the least a grateful people should do.

The issue of disqualifying someone from office for non-belief in God went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961, when a similar provision in the state of Maryland’s constitution was challenged by an atheist, Roy Torcaso.

In Torcaso v. Watkins, Justice Hugo Black 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.

That ruling, along with the “Lemon test” in 1971 would appear, at least to people with minds uncluttered by religious dogma, to have settled the matter of mixing religion with government in a constitutionally secular America.

But not so fast, all you reprobates:

North Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Law To Establish An Official State Religion

The proposed law reads:

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 bill has 12 sponsors. Guess which political party they belong to?

Oh, come on. Take a guess.

17 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  April 3, 2013

    Duane,

    Now this blog raises an interesting point. But it may not be the one intended, for sure.

    As far as I know the First Amendment is the only place in the Constitution related to religion. Here is what it says and I quote: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishmenbt of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;….. ” That’s it as far as I am aware of in terms of specific words in the Constitution at least that say what can or cannot be done by Congress as it relates to religion.

    From there we must go deep into “intent”, previous interpretations (some included simply in letters written by Founders), SCOTUS decisions, etc. So take the language printed above used by North Carolina legislators and show me where it specifically says a “state” cannot do particular things in terms of religion? Certainly the Constitution does not say what a state can or cannot do, specifically, in that area of law or government.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like “mixing” religion and politics in any way. Religion tries to tell us what God expects. That is why I don’t consider myself a religious person. I choose to ask God on my own for his guidance and honestly listen for answers. Do I “talk to God” and does He “talk back”. NO, not in my view. But that is a whole different subject and actually none of anyone’s business UNLESS I start trying to force someone to do something because I THINK it is ‘God’s Will”. Baloney on that “stuff” from anyone.

    So I politically oppose the efforts to put a litmus test of faith to qualify for public office, in North Carolina or anywhere else for that matter. But I don’t like others to try to “weasle word” the Constitution to imply things it simply does not say, directly. I am sure there are exceptions to such a “rule” but one does not come to mind as I try to explain such a political point.

    We approach the edge of a very slippery slope if the majority of people in North Carolina want only those that believe in “Almight God”, whatever that may be to govern, legally. But such is the result of democratic rule, sometimes, as well. Next thing you know such “rulers” will be telling us what God’s will might be in all sorts of things!!! Yikes!!! There goes the lobster industry in America and crab meat too!!! But sheep will be protected I suppose????

    I wonder if God said some things 3000 years ago that might not be applicable today???

    Anson

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  2. Duane,

    The section of North Carolina’s Constitution that says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God” is EXPLICITLY PROHIBITED by the U.S. Constitution which says, at Article 4. Section 3:

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the MEMBERS OF THE SEVERAL STATE LEGISLATURES, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States AND OF THE SEVERAL STATES, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but NO RELIGIOUS TEST SHALL EVER BE REQUIRED as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    This also means that any laws of North Carolina enacted under the authority of its Constitution’s Article VI, Section 8 (“Disqualifications for office”) are also unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

    As to NC’s proposed “establishment” of a state religion, this has also been addressed by SCOTUS over the years and it has ruled very clearly, “the hell you will!” But, of particular interest here is the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Education, in which Justice Hugo Black, writing for the court, provided this perspective:

    “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.” (See my blog at http://thehumanistchallenge.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/the-alchemy-of-religion-and-the-quantum-theory-of-humanism-2/ for more on this subject.)

    No state can decide unilaterally which provisions of the U.S. Constitution it chooses to follow. If they could, then we would surely still have slavery. And don’t call be Shirley.

    Herb

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    • Shirley,

      Sure, states can unilaterally decide which constitutional provisions they will follow and which ones they won’t. After that, they get to decide who among them will fight the federal troops occupying their capitals.

      Duane

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  3. Hi Duane,
    Well said. Hope you don’t mind that I shared with my fellow North Carolinians on FB. I believe I recall several years ago an atheist holding some office in Asheville, one of our more progressive cities, but I believe it was challenged. I don’t believe I knew about theTorcaso v. Watkins decision, which will be a good response to those who say we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion.
    Good job,
    Helen

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  4. genegarman

     /  April 3, 2013

    As the “Father of the Constitution” wrote , “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” James Madison, c. 1817, William and Mary Quarterly 3:555 or The Papers of James Madison Digital Edition, Retirement Series, Volume 1 (4 March 1817–31 January 1820).

    As a former staff member of Americans United for Separation, I can assure you the Supreme Court of the United States applied the First Amendment to the states long ago. Now, a state “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Further, from the foundation of our nation, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” Art. 6., Sec. 3., has been the law of the entire nation. What part of “no religious test shall ever be required” is unclear? What part of “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is unclear?

    Obviously, the plain wording of the Constitution is simply rejected nationally by the Republican Chamber of Commerce Religion Right Party! As for North Carolina, where I, in the early 60’s, spent two weeks cropping tobacco with the best of them, I can only suggest these current Republican legislators are possibly smoking something else. “No law respecting an establishment of religion” is clearly stated.

    By the way, the word “church” is not in the Constitution. It is “religion” itself, the entire subject “thereof” which shall not be established by law. You can also see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM.

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  5. ansonburlingame

     /  April 4, 2013

    Wait a minute here Herb,

    I THOUGHT you were really on to a point, constitutionally, that said what you quoted above. If true that would completely negate my argument that the First Amendment was the only Constitutional statement on religion.

    But after getting out my handy dandy copy of the constitution I found NO such paragraph in Artilcle 4, Section 3 or anywhere else in the Constitution that I could find. So either I misread the Constitution or the copy that I have, published by the CATO institute is wrong, or you simply found the paragraph quoted elsewhere and I could not find it.

    Reading my copy of Article IV did reveal an “unknown” to me however. Escaping slaves are constitutionally required to be delivered back to the States from which they escaped. Wonder why that was never changed, constitutionally??

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      From the U.S. Archives, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html, here is the full text of Article VI,

      1. “All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

      2. “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

      3. “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

      As you can plainly see, I quoted directly from the 3rd paragraph (section) of the official Constitution. Maybe you should consider getting an accurate version.

      The Article IV, Section 3, 3rd paragraph reference to “escaped slaves” was rendered null and void upon the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which made slavery illegal.

      Herb

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      • King Beauregard

         /  April 4, 2013

        I think we posted at just about the same time.

        Anson’s right though: just because it’s the third paragraph doesn’t mean it’s Section 3. Other Articles have Sections, but Article VI does not.

        Best thing to do would be to say “my bad, it’s in the third paragraph of Article VI”, not try to make like Anson was in the wrong. He nailed it.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  April 4, 2013

      It’s Article VI, not IV. Here is Article VI in its entirety:

      All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

      This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

      The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

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    • Ooops. My bad for listing Article 4 instead of Article 6. But I am, after all, dyslexic.

      Like

    • And my apologies for having misread the Article #’s. I’m sure your version is correctI just sent you to the wrong place. Sorry about that.

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  6. ansonburlingame

     /  April 5, 2013

    Sure glad I never misquote or mis-link anything Herb, perfect as I am. And YES your link, the correct one, negates my previous statement over religion being mentioned in the Constitution other than in the First Amendment. I suspect you were correct all along, but try as I might I simply could not find it given your reference.

    But as well Duane accuses me all the time of not reading what he writies, or at least he thinks that is the case. You on the other hand posted a reference that I actually looked up to confirm. Says something about my faith in you and some suspicions about Duane and all his links, accurate in terms of where they are, but the content is usually so one sided they mean little to me!!!!

    Wonder what Krugman has to say on that subject????

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  7. As I noted above, Art. 6., Sec. 3., is the statement which the Founding Fathers, with capitol Fs, that is, the men who were actually at the 1787 Constitutional Convention (see Webster’s Dictionary) plainly addressed the issue of religion as irrelevant in terms of qualifications for public office in the USA: “no religious test shall ever be required.” In other words, every citizen, whether atheist or Muslim, has from the beginning of our nation been eligible for public office. The Republican Religion Right Party has been deliberately dishonest on this issue. Can it really be simply unaware of what the Constitution plainly commands?

    When the First Congress drafted and the states ratified the First Amendment, the Supreme Law of the Land became even more dogmatic about the place of religion in the USA: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Of what? Of “religion” by “law.” How much more clearly could the Founding Fathers and the First Congress, plus the ratifying states, have stated the principle of “separation between Religion and Government”? In the USA, religion is to be voluntary, not coerced or established by law.

    In 1789, James Madison was on the six member Senate-House committee which drafted the wording of the First Amendment, but even then a sufficient number of congressmen refused to abide by the plainly stated commandments in the Constitution and, without Madison’s approval, appointed a congressional chaplain, proving the point about being wary of Congress when it is in session, including in regard to the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government: no law and no test. What is directly prohibited should not be indirectly permitted lest the “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” commandment become meaningless.

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  8. ansonburlingame

     /  April 6, 2013

    A coincidence or……

    This exchange has been meaningful at least for me. I have given it thought over several days now.

    Coincidentally, last night I attended a program on the Four Freedoms, the paintings by Norman Rockwell, at the Crystal Bridges Musuem in Bentonville, AK. When each painting was published in the Sat. Evening Post in early 1943, each one was accompanied by an essay. Will Durant wrote the essay for Freedom OF Religion. You can find it in its entirety in Wickepedia.

    I offer only one excerpt from that remarkable essay.

    “But the mark of man is that he beats his head against the riddle of life, knows his infinite weakness of body and mind, lifts up his heart to a hidden presence and power, and finds in his faith a beacon of heartening hope, a pillar of strength for his fragile decency.”

    To me that captures the essence of man’s, at least some humans, never ending search for a “pillar of strength” to endure life, on life’s terms. I find it very difficult to criticize any individual’s effort in that regard UNLESS they try to force whatever “strength” or message or whatever they THINK they have found, on anyone else.

    Religion, or faith, or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it CAN have profound influences on individuals. But God Almight, when groups of them start saying my way or the highway, well go read your history up to 9/11/2012 and everything that comes before!!!

    Anson

    PS: Durant also compares faith with music, each going beyond normal human understanding. I have never liked “Rock” but since I was a child I have found “strength” in good classical musicm even some opera music. My grand kids think I am nuts with such taste and I have no idea what they “find” in rock music. So what? Each to his own but keep the volumn down is my only request or better yet listen with a headset!!!

    PPS: As another aside, go read the essay on Freedom FROM Want. Now that one we can argue about until the cows come home!!!

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  9. Interesting thread. There seems to be consensus that NC’s constitution is federally illegal. In all the discussion I hope the important message in this post doesn’t get lost. It is that trying to establish a state religion is no anachronism, it is a passion alive and threatening right here in the 21st century.

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    • Jim,

      That’s exactly right. There are overt and covert ways of establishing such a state religion and the aggressive effort to do so involves both methods these days. Think of the driving force against both gay marriage and reproductive rights. These are largely folks who essentially want to write into state and federal laws there own theological views on the matters without the slightest consideration of others’ theological or non-theological views. Such moral and theological certainty leads to the idea that “compromise” is a dirty, dirty word. And it goes without saying that we have to constantly, and I mean constantly, fight the effort to directly or indirectly meld doctrinaire religious beliefs with public policy.

      Duane

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