The Republic of N. Carolina

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 4, 2013

If county commissioners and our local representatives don’t believe federal court rulings should have any real authority in North Carolina or Rowan, then why are they so eager to have a higher court take up their prayer case and — they hope — find in the commission’s favor? Why even bother to fight a battle if the outcome has already been declared null and void?
That’s the head-scratching contradiction between our commissioners’ determination to battle the ACLU in court and a measure state Reps. Carl Ford and Harry Warren have submitted at the state level, with several other legislators signing on. As most of the nation now knows, Ford and Warren asked the General Assembly to approve a resolution, the Rowan County Defense of Religion Act of 2013. Designed to support the commissioners and First Amendment protections, it says, in part, “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.”
Ford and Warren have subsequently said they intended only to support Rowan commissioners, not declare state sovereignty or call for state-endorsed religion. But the resolution says what it says — which basically comes down to this: We don’t need federal judges to tell us what’s legal. The state and its counties will be the final arbiter — or higher power, if you will.
Somewhere, George Wallace is giving a big thumbs up.
Yes, it’s only a resolution, and even if approved by the state Legislature, it bears no legal weight. And yes, it’s obviously a symbolic gesture showing support for local officials while expressing defiance against the federal government and its judicial branch, similar to chest-puffing poses against health-care reform, immigration reform and gun control proposals. However, behind the symbolism there’s the whiff of an invitation to anarchy. That’s what you get, inevitably, when officials indicate that they — and presumably their constituents — can disregard the laws and judicial rulings with which they disagree.
Commissioners are within their legal rights to pursue this case in court, as fruitless as that quest may prove. They’re also free to express their personal frustrations with court rulings perceived as encroaching on their individual rights. The prayer controversy raises legitimate issues about the intertwining of government and religion — issues that have been debated since the nation’s founding. A definitive Supreme Court ruling might put those issues to rest — but not when our state legislators are saying, in effect, that in North Carolina, such rulings would not necessarily be recognized as the law of the land.