Over the last few years the Conservative Right has launched a massive campaign of state-by-state legislation to advance their agenda. It is unprecedented in sheer volume and audacity. They have clearly decided that whatever they cannot accomplish at the national level they will force through by sheer persistence and at the states level.
As part of their state-by-state strategy Conservatives have pursued hundreds of initiatives to bypass or override Federal restrictions, Supreme Court rulings, and Constitutional barriers. The scope and range of their initiatives has been mind-boggling but just to list a few:
- Establish personhood, mandate ultrasounds, and create abortion clinic trap laws
- Limit affirmative action, collective bargaining, and labor rights
- Restrict and discourage voting by largely Democrat demographic groups
- Rollback health reforms, environmental protections, and corporate limits
- Installing un-Democratic executive managers in Michigan and eventually across the country
These areas and others are being aggressively pursued from every possible angle in every possible state. And they don’t just try once and give up. They introduce them over and over and over again. In Michigan when the voters repealed the “emergency manager” law, their lawmakers simply reinstated it again. By deluging their opponents with overwhelming numbers of challenges to defend against, many get through even the most ardent opposition. These Conservative efforts may lose hundreds of votes or legal challenges, but undaunted they persist and dozens upon dozens do succeed in shaping public policy in their image in statehouses across the country.
Given this recent history, we atheists should have seen their latest attack coming a mile off. In North Carolina, legislators have introduced a bill called the “Rowan County Defense of Religion Act.”Introduced on April 1st (but it was no joke) by nine Republican sponsors, it declares that:
“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.”
According to the Huffington Post:
“The North Carolina bill seeks to play the First Amendment both ways. It says that the state is exempted from the establishment clause under the First Amendment, which establishes the “separation of church and state.” The clause reads that “Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion.” But the North Carolina bill asserts that prohibition does not apply “to states, municipalities, or schools,” and that North Carolina could establish a state religion. The bill then goes further, portraying this reasoning as a protection of the freedom of religion, including the state lawmakers’ right to exercise their own religious beliefs.”
On April 4th, the Republican Speaker killed this particular legislation for undisclosed reasons. But atheists and anyone who believes in the Separation of Church and State should take this as a rude wake-up call. The Conservatives will not be dissuaded. This was just the opening salvo in what will undoubtedly be an endless, relentless campaign to extend their state-by-state strategy to include attacks on our First Amendment protections.
We will soon see variations of these initiatives in every state where Republicans think they have even the slimmest chance of success. If we do not take this warning call seriously and respond both aggressively and effectively, they will achieve some successes and we will see religion seeping through the cracks in the Wall that they create. Soon we may find that we live in a country with 50 different variations of our effective separation of church and state.
And even if you are in a safely Blue state, these Red-State efforts do have impact on you. Each state where they manage to push through their anti-Separation measures adds to the weight of precedent for eventual actions at the Federal level. We urge you to follow these initiatives and take whatever action you can to block them in each and every state.