The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A state religion? What’s next, North Carolina, secession?

As a North Carolina resident also proud to be a United States citizen, I’m starting to worry.

Since Republicans swept the North Carolina state government, from the statehouse to the House and Senate, the tilt right has been unmistakable. But the latest move out of Raleigh has even a lot of die-hard conservatives shaking their heads. Two representatives from Rowan County have submitted a resolution that would give North Carolina, its counties and towns  the right to establish an official religion.

You know you’ve stepped over religious and constitutional boundaries when evangelist Franklin Graham thinks you’ve gone too far.

The measure is a reaction, or overreaction, to a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union has filed on behalf of several residents who object to Rowan County commissioners’ practice of opening their meetings with Christian prayer.

The measure acknowledges the U.S. Constitution prevents Congress from establishing an official religion, but says that the prohibition does not apply to states, counties or towns.

In part, the bill reads: “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.”

One wonders what other established, constitutionally and court-protected practices the state will next decide to abandon and if we will soon need our own flag and anthem. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturned North Carolina’s ban on marriages between blacks and whites. That one hits a little too close to home.

Fiscally conservative policies won the state for the GOP, but in the comments from North Carolina on stories about the religion bill, “laughing stock” is a common refrain. Forget the wealthy and well-educated Research Triangle and its acclaimed universities, the artistic and culinary delights of Asheville, the Blue Ridge Mountains or barbecue and NASCAR.

The latest headlines from the state focus on an amendment defining marriage and moves to cut unemployment, reject Medicaid funds and pile on voting restrictions.

Laws proposed throughout the country, many in response to the Affordable Care Act and gun control proposals, have asserted the right to separate states from the federal government. For a while, North Carolina, the state that voted for President Obama in 2008 and gave him a respectable 2012 showing, earned an exemption from that list.

It looks like the latest move doesn’t stand much of a chance, though. Despite some support for the Rowan commissioners’ public prayers, the establishment of religion proposal isn’t winning many fans in or outside the state.

As Tom Currie, dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus, said in The Charlotte Observer:  “I think the establishment of a religion is deadly. … “Faith is only really vital and relevant when it is able to stand on its own. It becomes small and trivial when it becomes an arm of the government.”