Thursday, April 4, 2013

NC religion 'law' was an embarrassment

Whenever I get to thinking that things have gotten hopelessly dumb under the big gold dome on East Colfax in Denver, I can now console myself that things in the Colorado Capitol aren’t as bad as they are in Raleigh.

I’ve been to Raleigh, NC, and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle is one of my favorite places to spend a vacation. I've been there at Christmas and in early spring and, to this country boy from the Colorado prairie, it's hard to tell the difference. They have flowers and shrubs and trees there I'd never heard of, and the woods are so dense you can drive past a whole subdivision and never see it. It is serene and scenic and just plain easy on the soul.

So you’d never know from walking down Fayetteville Street of that very cosmopolitan city that the wet, cool winters breed insanity. I don't mean the giggly, mischievous insanity of a UNC sorority hazing or the balls-to-the-wall insanity of the Duke Bulldogs making the Sweet Sixteen. I mean the full-on, piss-your-pants-in-public insanity that goes on in a mind so addled by backwoods inbreeding that it can barely remember to take a breath and swallow its own spit.

Alas, it appears that such insanity courses through the halls of the North Carolina State Legislative Building, for on April 1 the North Carolina General Assembly saw the introduction of a bill that would establish an official state religion.

I know, I know, I thought it was an Old Confederacy April Fool’s joke, too. I had visions of a bunch of wool-suited yahoos in Jesse Helms masks yukking it up for the cameras; tasteless, yes, but funny in a junior high kind of way. (Of course, I first thought the pope’s resignation was an invention of The Onion News, too, but that’s for another day.)

But no, there are several Republican Tarheels who apparently slept through high school civics class and are of the bizarre notion that the whole constitution thing is ... um ... unconstitutional. It appears, from the way the bill is written, that North Carolina Republicans aren’t real clear on just what the U.S. Constitution is or what it’s for. And they have no clue about the duties and powers of the American court system, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

In their April Fool's joke on their state, the bill's sponsors state pretty plainly that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution basically, well, nullifies the U.S. Constitution. They seem to think that all 7,816 words of the Constitution and its 27 amendments were mere piffle, and that the 10th Amendment is some kind of holy writ that says, "Oh, never mind all of that, the states are sovereign." In any event, they say, the Constitution applies only to the federal government, that hated stronghold of liberalism and gay rights and baby killing, and does not apply in any way to the state governments which are (that word again) sovereign.

Granted, I’m no constitutional scholar, and if you want proof of that just ask me about the legality of DUI roadblocks (and bring a lunch because you’re going to be awhile); but I am a reasonably intelligent adult and my reading comprehension is somewhat above the average, if I do say so myself. And I have read the U.S. Constitution, and it clearly outlines some "thou shalt nots" to the states. In Section 10 of Article 1, which is specifically titled, "Powers prohibited of States," the Constitution declares that states may not "pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility." This is just after Section 9 of Article 1, which prohibits Congress from doing those same things.

Sections 1 and 2 of Article 4 are devoted to restrictions and responsibilities laid on the states, including the famous "Full Faith and Credit" clause of Section 1. Section 2 begins with the sentence, "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States," and then goes on to enumerate a long list of ways the states shall treat their citizens. But in case there's any doubt, there is also the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, in part: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ….” This is a post-Civil War amendment that was meant as a dope-slap upside the Confederacy's head and the admonition that, "No, damnit, the states most assuredly are not sovereign!"

Oh, sure, you can argue that, by this logic, Colorado’s legalization of marijuana is actually illegal because federal drug law is stuck in the 1930s, but you would be guilty of a false syllogism (look it up, Spanky.) It ain’t the same thing, not by a long shot.

So yes, North Carolina’s proposed law is an outright violation of all U.S. citizens’ right to be unmolested by those who would force their religious beliefs upon people who believe differently – or who don’t believe at all. As such, it is illegal, unenforceable, and unconstitutional, and is the worst defiance of U.S. law since May 1861. Maybe that's something to be proud of among the crazies in Raleigh, but to the rest of the America it is an absurdity as poisonous as the distillates produced in the piny woods of Rowan County.

Fortunately, the whole thing was short-lived and by Thursday evening the NC House leadership was announcing that the infernal thing was dead. For a few days, though the TV news folk (whom I view with the same distaste as DUI roadblocks) had their fun with the story. WRAL-TV gleefully led its web site with the story for a couple of days while the staid Raleigh News-Observer buried it toward the bottom of the political page, as if embarrassed to even report it.

An embarrassment it was, but at least it didn't happen here. So while our own legislature remains adorably naive and utterly ineffective, at least it's not a national laughingstock. And with that bunch, you take what you can get.