www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

A note on primitivism -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Owning ideas -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

There's more -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Kansas' birthday -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Back to the future, locked and loaded -1/28/2015, 9:29 AM

Compromise -- make it happen -1/28/2015, 9:29 AM

Faith v. facts -1/28/2015, 9:29 AM

Counting on Les -1/27/2015, 9:22 AM

Building bills in the Legislature -1/27/2015, 9:22 AM

Tale of the tree -1/27/2015, 9:22 AM

Seismic activity -1/27/2015, 9:22 AM

Where are the good guys? -1/27/2015, 9:21 AM

Brownback's budget -1/26/2015, 9:59 AM

Committee meetings begin -1/26/2015, 9:50 AM

Excitement starts at Capitol -1/26/2015, 9:50 AM

What's happening with oil prices? -1/26/2015, 9:50 AM

Synthetic biology, brave new world -1/26/2015, 9:50 AM

Today's fierce urgency is voter mobilization -1/25/2015, 5:02 PM

Duke, Muslims and politics of intimidation -1/25/2015, 5:02 PM

Right to hunt -1/25/2015, 5:02 PM

Pipeline: Foreign profits, American risk -1/23/2015, 7:47 AM

Social Darwinist 'Christianity' -- Chapter 3 -1/23/2015, 7:47 AM

Kiwanis generosity -1/23/2015, 7:47 AM

The state economy -1/22/2015, 10:23 AM

Restate of the union -1/22/2015, 10:23 AM

France needs our First Amendment -1/22/2015, 10:23 AM

Repurposing Washington -1/20/2015, 9:31 AM

March for Life -1/20/2015, 9:31 AM

Brownback, the budget and schools -1/20/2015, 9:31 AM

Sensible checks are no assault on gun rights -1/19/2015, 9:50 AM

Jeb Bush chooses expedience on marriage issue -1/19/2015, 9:50 AM

The State of the State Address and the legislative session -1/19/2015, 8:47 AM

Spending's not the culprit in budget woes -1/18/2015, 3:32 PM

Pilgrim's paradise -1/18/2015, 3:32 PM

Spring elections -1/18/2015, 3:23 PM

Kobach is back -1/16/2015, 3:04 PM

More with Les -1/16/2015, 10:03 AM

Understanding Hooper -1/16/2015, 10:02 AM

Basic economics -1/16/2015, 10:01 AM

Female governance -1/15/2015, 9:37 AM

2015 energy policy -- a unique opportunity -1/15/2015, 9:37 AM

The better option -1/15/2015, 9:36 AM

'Wall Street' a waste -1/14/2015, 2:50 PM

Trade already -1/14/2015, 2:49 PM

No media bias? -1/14/2015, 2:48 PM

Retirement funds -1/14/2015, 2:47 PM

Redefining public education in Kansas -1/13/2015, 10:06 AM

What the future holds -1/13/2015, 10:06 AM

Efficient education -1/13/2015, 10:06 AM

Terrorists usher in the 'End of Satire' -1/12/2015, 9:14 AM

Sexuality, lame logic, substandard science -1/12/2015, 9:14 AM

A tragic family story -1/11/2015, 12:11 PM

For freedom, LGBT rights, a year of decision -1/11/2015, 12:11 PM

Roberts' promotion -1/11/2015, 12:11 PM

FHSU campaign -1/11/2015, 12:11 PM

Fairness in U.S. -1/9/2015, 3:05 PM

Liberals' use of black people -- Part II -1/9/2015, 9:09 AM

Social Darwinist 'Christians' -- Chapter 2 -1/9/2015, 9:09 AM

Taxing situation -1/9/2015, 9:09 AM

Trust: Society depends on it -1/8/2015, 9:55 AM

Education schools lack a paradigm -1/8/2015, 9:55 AM

Congress convenes -1/7/2015, 10:07 AM

Simple way to fix gridlock: change committees -1/7/2015, 10:06 AM

Kansas is your customer -1/7/2015, 10:06 AM

Large budget shortfalls await solution -1/6/2015, 10:06 AM

The state and funding K-12 education -1/6/2015, 10:06 AM

Tree removal -1/6/2015, 10:06 AM

Republicans won -- now what? -1/5/2015, 9:13 AM

Social Darwinist religion, Chapter 1 -1/5/2015, 9:13 AM

Liberals' use of black people -1/2/2015, 9:53 AM

Ignorance abounds -1/2/2015, 9:53 AM

Superbug dilemma -1/2/2015, 9:53 AM

Thanks North Korea -12/31/2014, 1:26 PM

Sony gets the last laugh -12/31/2014, 1:26 PM

Free speech -12/31/2014, 1:16 PM

New Year's resolutions -- sort of -12/31/2014, 9:22 AM

A flat-footed backflip for Wall Street -12/31/2014, 9:22 AM

Dim the lights -12/31/2014, 9:22 AM

Some near-sure bets for the new year -12/31/2014, 9:21 AM

Adios, Rick Perry -12/30/2014, 8:20 AM

Budget strife means high-anxiety session -12/30/2014, 8:20 AM

Time for caution -12/30/2014, 8:20 AM

-12/29/2014, 10:01 AM

Court's raw deal -12/29/2014, 10:01 AM

Chris Christie's pork barrel politics -12/29/2014, 10:00 AM

A Festivus Miracle -12/27/2014, 4:18 PM

Faith, not politics, keeps Christ in Christmas -12/27/2014, 4:18 PM

EPA rule falls short -12/27/2014, 4:18 PM

2014: The year in Kansas higher education -12/26/2014, 9:39 AM

Methane from cattle -12/26/2014, 9:39 AM

Black progression and retrogression -12/26/2014, 9:38 AM

Up-Lyft-ing Christmas tale -12/25/2014, 1:22 PM

Terrorism on soft targets -12/25/2014, 1:22 PM

Story of Christmas -12/25/2014, 1:22 PM

Fabricated column -12/24/2014, 8:21 AM

The Christmas spirit dwells in us all -12/24/2014, 8:21 AM

Celebrating life -12/24/2014, 8:21 AM

A visit from St. Nicholas -12/24/2014, 8:21 AM

A look ahead to the Legislature -12/23/2014, 9:34 AM

There is a Santa Claus -12/23/2014, 9:34 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

How not to protect religious liberty

Published on -4/14/2013, 2:28 PM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

Here's a quick primer on a recent proposal by two North Carolina legislators to permit the state to designate a official religion:

First, the North Carolina Speaker of the House effectively killed the proposal one day after it was filed, saying it "will not advance" to a committee hearing.

Second, even if enacted, it would not survive constitutional scrutiny under existing Supreme Court decisions.

And third, if it did overcome both legislative and legal barriers, it would have challenged the very underpinnings of the kind of religious liberty we have professed to the world since 1791, when the First Amendment was ratified, as part of the Bill of Rights.

The argument by those who favor the proposed North Carolina designation combines "state nullification" with a constitutional concept expressed in recent years by some in Tea Party gatherings and by other conservative groups: that the First Amendment's prohibition of "establishment" of an official faith and providing protection for "free exercise" in religious choice only applies at the federal level.

The outcome of the Civil War would seem to have settled the whole nullification issue, through it arose again, without gaining traction in the courts, as Southern states attempted to fight desegregation orders and voting laws in the 1950s. The concept also went by the name "interposition."

The second idea -- that the 45 words of the First Amendment only apply to federal laws and the federal government -- actually was the practice until a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning in the 1890s, in which an action called "incorporation" applied to parts of the Bill of Rights to states.

The "establishment" clause contained in the first 16 words of the First Amendment that protect freedom of religion was a late bloomer in this incorporation process. That clause was first applied to the states by the Supreme Court in 1947 -- in a case having to do with use of public funds in support of private religious schools in New Jersey.

Protection of the other clause of those first 16 words, "free exercise of religion" against contrary state laws came a just a bit earlier, in 1940 -- generally impacting state laws requiring a declaration of some religious faith in order to run for public office.

These kinds of proposals crop up periodically, often combined under the label of "states rights," citing the 10th Amendment, or in attacks on the reach of the "due process" provision provided by the 14th Amendment.

While this latest legislative proposal did not specify what faith might be declared "official," it was titled "Rowan County, North Carolina, Defense of Religion Act of 2013," referring to a legal battle in that county over the use of only Christian prayers at public meetings.

For much of the nation's history, the use of Christian was matter-of-course in many places where other faiths were barely represented, if at all, or were subject to openly expressed bigotry.

But freedom of religion -- as with the other four freedoms in the First Amendment -- is not defined, supported or validated by majority vote. Just the opposite: First Amendment freedoms protect our individual rights from being overridden by the "majority" of citizens working through the hand of government.

The establishment and free exercise clauses are not present to restrain religion, privately practiced or expressed in the public square. They exist to shield religious faiths of all kinds from intrusion by the heavy hand of government -- even if that hand purports to act benevolently.

We alone are empowered, each of us -- not elected officials, states, judges or Congress -- to designate our own, personal "official" religion.

Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. gpolicinski@fac.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos

AP Breaking News