Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Establishing a state religion

There is something going in on North Carolina right now that I bet a lot of you haven't heard about.  It's gotten barely any press coverage, which is weird, because if it doesn't scare the absolute hell out of you, you're not thinking hard enough.

A bill, filed by two Republican lawmakers from Rowan County on Monday (and backed by nine others), had as its intent to supersede the United States Constitution with respect to the establishment of a "state religion."  The bill was written by Representatives Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), and says, in part,
SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. 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.
Backers claim that the bill is in response to President Obama's moves to establish universal health care and to alter gun laws, and they characterize it as fighting "federal tyranny."

Now, before you start writing letters, allow me to mention that this bill died yesterday afternoon in committee.  But the fact that it got as far as it did is like a dash of cold water down my back.  And if you think that this is a feint, or a political move intended just to "send a message," consider what Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College in Salisbury, had to say about the bill: "[I]t is attempting to appease to a certain base of supporters here in Rowan County, but also probably throughout the state, that believe very firmly in the needs for religious liberty."

Now wait, Dr. Bitzer, let me get this straight: allowing North Carolina to establish an official state religion, and thus compel prayers in schools, prayers before governmental functions, and (presumably) state control over what can and cannot be taught in science classrooms, is a move toward religious liberty?  Can I just take a moment to remind you of what theocracies are actually like?

Because a move toward a Christian theocracy is what this is, of course.  No one in his or her right mind believes that all religions in North Carolina will be given equal respect.  This is just the old "America is a Christian nation" thing, rebranded as some kind of fight against the power of the federal government.  Take a look, for example, at the billboard campaign that has begun, in support of this move:

Many local churches have been vocal in their support of the bill, and vow to continue the fight now that this iteration of it will not be voted on.  "It's very exciting," minister Bill Godair of Cornerstone Church in Salisbury told WBTV on Wednesday.  "I was thrilled about it...  I know this money could have been given to the poor and I feel like we do so much and I feel like we elected these men, the fact that they're standing together unified, all five of them, I just feel like that we have to stand with them."

I find the whole thing profoundly frightening.  In this time, when there are large, organized, well-funded private groups that have as their official goal mandating the infiltration of religion into every aspect of our lives -- determining what we can do with our own bodies, how we have to teach our children, what we can and cannot say in public -- that this sort of thing is now being considered by government officials is horrifying.

And for those of my readers who are yourselves Christian, I hope you have the sense to recognize why this would be a terrible move.  Because, after all, it's not like Christianity is one thing; it is a diverse system of belief, a term that encompasses everything from the liberal, bible-as-metaphor approach of the Unitarian Universalists to the hard-as-nails biblical fundamentalism of the Pentecostals.  (Notwithstanding the fact that some of these sects say about the others that they are "not true Christians.")  So, if there's to be a state religion, which one?  If you take just that parts they all agree on, there won't be much left.  One of them has to be chosen as the actual state religion -- which should rightly terrify members of the others.

In any case, keep an eye on North Carolina, and other states in the "Bible Belt."  This fight isn't over yet.  And for those atheists, rationalists, agnostics, and freethinkers who somehow survive down there -- speak up.  Now.

Before it's too late.


  1. Just in the interests of holding your rhetoric to academic standards, the 'dark ages' are neither best regarded as a theocratic period (since the term traditionally refers to an interregnum between the theocratic Roman Empire and the theocratic European powers of the high middle ages), nor are they any longer regarded as having been particularly dark (from Encyclopedia Britannica: '[the term] is now rarely used by historians because of the value judgment it implies. Though sometimes taken to derive its meaning from the fact that little was then known about the period, the term’s more usual and pejorative sense is of a period of intellectual darkness and barbarity.' - ).

    I'm defending the Dark Ages, mind, not theocracy; why not use Iran as an example? (Or, with only a little stretch, North Korea?)

    1. Point made... I actually considered using Iran or Saudi Arabia as an example, but I decided against it given that the response I've gotten when I went that way was along the lines of, "Of course THEY act that way. They're barbarians." But you're correct, of course. The real evils of institutionalized Christianity -- the Inquisition, for example -- happened a good deal later.

  2. "My fellow North Carolinians. We are gathered in this town square today to enact God's will. John Doe: for the crimes of attempting to subvert the state of North Carolina's freedom of religion act; by blaspheming and the spreading of verbal and written propaganda; you are hereby sentenced to death by immolation. The sentence shall be administered here and now. May God have mercy on your soul."

    *Accused is lit aflame*
    *crowd cheers*

  3. Reason #4,275,327 I'm glad I'm Canadian. All we have up here is a government that wishes it was a monarchy that's supported by a minority who want it to be an aristocracy. We leave religion and sexual orientation out of it.

    Canada: we won't tell you who to pray to or who you can love. Come for the freedom, stay for the maple syrup and poutine.