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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

N.C. Republicans seek exemption from U.S. Constitution (reality to follow)

Posted by on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 5:19 PM

GOP lawmakers haven’t floated the idea of secession yet, but that may be what’s next.

A joint resolution filed by Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford argues that the establishment clause of the First Amendment does not—read NOT—apply to North Carolina, or any state for that matter.

If the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the states within the United States, does that leave Puerto Rico and Guam?

The resolution, stunningly, goes on to say “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.”

In fact, a decision written more than 200 years ago says that federal courts have exactly that power.

If a federal court, a.k.a. the Supreme Court of the United States, doesn’t have the power to decide what is constitutional, who does? Should each state be able to interpret the Constitution differently?

Reps. Warren and Ford haven’t yet returned my calls for comment.

Let’s back up for a minute. This bill emerged because the Rowan County Commissioners like to pray specifically to Jesus Christ before each meeting. The ACLU of North Carolina has sued them for that and the U.S. Court of Appeals has already ruled that specific religious prayers are unconstitutional.

(Praying before a meeting is legal, but praying to the god of a particular religion is not. The legal argument is that such practices exclude elected officials or other people attending the meeting who might belong to another religion or no religion at all. It has been ruled to violate the establishment clause, which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion.”)

In an email response the ACLU’s communications director Mike Meno had this to say: “The bill sponsors fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principles of the separation of powers that date back to the founding of this country.”

I'm pretty sure he was being generous.

The Rowan County situation is lightly referred to in the resolution, but its language seems to include the entire state.

These bold declarations come directly from the text:

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.

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 good news is that a resolution does not, as they say, carry the force of law.

A resolution, therefore, likely wouldn’t be challenged in court. However, as long as government bodies like the Rowan County Commissioners continue to pray to Jesus, the ACLU will continue to sue them.

At that point, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide who is right, whether North Carolina legislators say it can or not.

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A resolution introduced on April Fool's Day suggests N.C. is not beholden to the First Amendment—but this is no joke.

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