Perfect flame-war bait for a slow news day.
The bill itself doesn’t mention a “state religion,” although that power is implicit. The language is precise, and for a reason:
The bill reads:
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.
North Carolina wants to establish an official state religion? No, not really. (I think.) The GOP legislators who are floating this are needling the ACLU, which is suing a local board of commissioners for opening their meetings with Christian prayers. Can’t have the state officially sanctioning a particular faith, right? Sure you can, says the NC bill: The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause applies only to the federal government, not to the states. Which is true, or was — Doug Mataconis is right that the Supreme Court has applied the Establishment Clause to state governments too (via the Fourteenth Amendment) for more than 60 years now. Unless SCOTUS is prepared to do something very unexpected to the constitutional doctrine of “incorporation,” the bill would be laughed out of court if it became law, which it almost certainly won’t. The bill’s sponsors are, I take it, mainly interested in making a symbolic point about federal encroachment, especially from the judiciary, on state sovereignty per the Tenth Amendment. And if you’re going to do that, prayer/religion is a smart choice of subject matter. Prayer in public schools has always polled well, and if the Supremes turn around and legalize gay marriage later this summer, this sort of Tenth Amendment argument will be popular among opponents.
Question: Has anyone seen numbers from major nonpartisan pollsters like Gallup on the separation of church and state? Polls have been conducted by advocacy groups but I’d prefer a less partial source. And I’d also prefer a narrower question. “Separation of church and state” is a gassy concept compared to asking specifically whether a state should be permitted to establish an official religion. This YouGov poll is interesting in showing a partisan split on whether separation should be “absolute,” but that’s not the precise issue here. The reason I ask is because when I saw the North Carolina story, I thought it looked like the sort of thing that Democrats would eagerly use as a wedge issue against the GOP (if, that is, the bill went anywhere). But a wedge only works if the majority’s on their side and I don’t know for a fact that it is because I can’t find a poll on point. Anyone seen one? If not, I assume we’ll get one next week thanks to Carolina.