Sunday, April 07, 2013

Neo-Confederate arguments for official state religions for the states

It has been reported in the news that two Republican North Carolina state representatives from Rowan County, Harry Warren and Carl Ford, have proposed having an official North Carolina state religion. I post some links to news stories at the end of this blog.

It has gotten a strongly negative reaction and was considered embarrassing to the state and so the original sponsors have back tracked and said they were just trying to allow prayer at the opening of county meetings.

However, I am not so sure that Warren and Ford just made an error. There has been this idea in some reactionary circles that a state religion is permissible for a state.

In the Southern Partisan, Vol. 7 No. 3, Summer 1987, on pages 34-37 an interview with Federal Judge W. Brevard Hand, chief judge of the Federal district court for southern Alabama.

On page 35 Judge Hand explains that the 1st Amendment was only intended to prevent the Federal government from adopting a state religion. Also, that states had state religions when the constitution was first adopted. Judge Hand doesn't feel that a state could adopt a state religion now with the current supreme court rulings. Judge Hand explains in this interview response:

PARTISAN: Could it be done today in view of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Constitution?
HAND: No, I would think not. Under the interpretations of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court, a state's efforts to do that would now be regarded as unconstitutional.
As a matter of fact, the states today still seem to have a feeling of autonomy that no longer exists. The War Between the States was the beginning of a decline in state sovereignty. But I think the real death knell of the view occurred after the incorporation battle in the Supreme Court over whether the First Amendment or the first eight Amendments were properly incorporated against the states as well as the federal government. Some historians say that state sovereignty ended when the people got the right to elect their U.S. Senators by popular vote rather than maintaining it as a state-controlled mechanism. 

"Incorporation" refers to legal rulings by the Supreme Court that the Bill of Rights apply to the states as well as the Federal government based on the 14th Amendment to the constitution, an amendment which the neo-Confederates detest, and certainly the readers of Southern Partisan. They also detest the Supreme Court ruling incorporating the Bill Rights as applying to the states.

This idea that states really have a right to a state religion which is blocked by Supreme Court rulings which are destructive of what are seen as states' rights has been circulating among reactionaries for some time. This article was 25 years ago. This idea wasn't new with Warren and Ford, though I have no evidence that Warren and Ford were aware of prior thinking regarding the idea of a state religion for states.

I think that this proposal by Warren and Ford may well have been exactly what they were intending, but with the public's reaction they backtracked.

By itself this episode doesn't represent anything more than a couple state legislators with ultra states' rights views. However, with all the nullification proposals submitted by state legislators, it does seem that this specific episode is part of a larger trend of some Republican legislators towards embracing a neo-Confederate agenda.
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