The battle for states’ rights is alive and well, and once again, the South is at the center of the debate.
Eleven Republicans in the North Carolina House of Representatives are contesting the authority of the federal government over the states in regards to the First and 14th amendments. In considering establishing a state religion and ignoring enforcement of certain federal laws, these North Carolina Republicans have decided the Constitution and federal courts do not apply at the state level.
The basic argument is whether or not Congress can enforce the 14th Amendment on the states, and whether or not the First Amendment applies to the states. A century or so of common sense and common practice says this argument is, at best, ludicrous, and at worse, a disgrace to the very concept of our civil liberties. So—par for the course for the GOP, these days.
There is some legal ground for the argument, as well as some tradition. Such debates are best left to constitutional lawyers, of which I am not. I am, however, a historian, and can say with some certainty state religions are a bad idea.
England fought several wars and endured some very bloody times as they decided whether to be Catholic or not. The Pilgrims and Puritans weren’t exactly popular in the Colonies, either. And that’s just Anglo-American history; the former Empire of Japan and the Middle East have had their own bloody battles over state religion.
This argument is about more than religion, of course. It could theoretically be applied to any Amendment, especially those in the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment, for example.
Still, the real question here is how much power individual states have, and if that power is separate from the Constitution and its amendments in any meaningful way. When it comes to civil liberties like freedom of religion, I’d say “nope.”
American liberty has always been personified in the rights of its citizens, saying those rights don’t apply at the state level is the same as saying they don’t apply at all. While the First Amendment only explicitly prevents Congress from instituting a state religion, the idea of a state religion itself leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Theoretically there’s nothing wrong with a state religion on paper,
but it’s when it’s put into practice that things go to hell in a hand basket.
If Republicans want to reassert states’ rights, that’s one thing. States’ rights have taken a big beating over the last century, and a little less federal power might make health care and drug legislation easier to debate.
To work to curtail an individual’s liberties and freedoms, however, undermines over two hundred years of traditional American ideals and beliefs. Again, not in itself a bad thing, but considering the source, forgive me for believing their reasons are less than altruistic.