A bill that would have made Christianity the official religion in the U.S. state of North Carolina became history when it was struck down by the speaker of that state’s House of Representatives, continuing the long streak of success for supporters of church-state separation at the state level in the United States. The Universal Life Church Monastery commends the decision by House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Charlotte) to prevent the official Christianization of North Carolina, and for several important reasons.
Perhaps the most oft-cited of these reasons is that legislating religion—even at the local, state level—violates the United States Constitution, and there is judicial precedence to support this view. In the landmark case Everson v. Board of Education (1947), although the court upheld the state’s law (which provided public busing to private religious schools), it also ruled that the Establishment Clause fully applied to state governments. More recently, the Clause was invoked against the state government in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994). Making Christianity (or any other religion) the official religion of a state would also seem to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause—which requires states to provide equal protection of the laws to all citizens—because it privileges Christians over non-Christians, so as Universal Life Church ministers we should be grateful for people like Speaker Tillis, whether we are Christian or not.
In addition, letting individual states legislate religion is, arguably, a slippery slope toward nationwide theocracy. Imagine that North Carolina succeeded in making Christianity its official religion. Now imagine that South Carolina followed suit, then Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and even some northern states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, all because the federal government was barred from enforcing the First and Fourteenth Amendments against state governments. It is not so far-fetched. Conceivably, fundamentalist Christians could get away with making their religion official in every state if no finger was lifted against the action, especially considering their immense advantage in terms of resources compared with other groups. It is six of one, half a dozen of the other—it would yield essentially the same consequences as legislating religion at the federal level, except that the process would be piece-meal, state-by-state. And many who choose to become a minister online would also be at a disadvantage too under such a law.
But North Carolina’s bill was unjust not only because it would set a dangerous precedent, but also because experience tells us supporters of such legislation would never put up with having the tables turned. Suppose lawmakers proposed a bill to make Islam the official religion—not even in North Carolina, but a more left-wing state. Almost certainly, Christian fundamentalists everywhere would invoke the First Amendment and decry the Islamification of America. Or, suppose they proposed to make paganism the official religion—we would almost certainly hear cries of Christian decline and a descent back into the dark days of heathen “barbarism”. ULC clergy would be similarly scorned for trying to legislate their beliefs, too. Thus, if we will not legislate Islam, paganism, or atheism, it does not seem very fair to legislate Christianity, either.
To see the North Carolina bill struck down is a great relief. While the Universal Life Church Monastery makes no official endorsements of politicians or political platforms, it does stand up for the sacerdotal rights of ministers ordained online, as well as historically persecuted religious groups. We are glad to have people like Thom Tillis willing to put their foot down and say no to the insidious spectre of illegal theocracy.
The Huffington Post