Commentary

Today’s “must read” op-ed: Gene Nichol on our pro-Christian government

Gene Nichol  — Photography by Steve Exum of Exumphoto.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol hits another one out of the park today in a News & Observer column blasting our ongoing state and national slide toward Christian theocracy.  The column was spurred in part by the recent action of state lawmakers to decline to allow ABC stores to open on Sundays and the statement of Randolph County State Representative Pat Hurley that the decision was warranted because “I think we need Sunday free for the Lord’s Day.”

As Nichol observed in response: “Quick reminder. The state of North Carolina has no power to declare a “Lord’s Day” or to order its observance.”

Nichol then goes on to recite numerous recent examples in which conservative politicians and judges have pushed for government to favor Christianity, including:

  • the state House advancing a bill drafted by the N.C. Prayer Caucus requiring a sign reading “In God We Trust” be placed in public schools;
  • Senate leader Phil Berger pushing through a statute allowing magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples, even after the Supreme Court had established their equality rights, based on the purported “religious objections” of state officials;
  • The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that a business could deny service to a gay couple based on the store owner’s religious beliefs;
  • Another Supreme Court ruling allowing a public high school football team to ceremoniously engage in public prayer.

But, of course, as Nichol notes, the conservative affection for “religious liberty” seems to founder when the discussion turns to respecting the rights of non-Christians. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“But the [Supreme Court] justices showed no similar affection for religious liberty in upholding Donald Trump’s notorious Muslim travel ban. All the world, except the five justices in the majority, understood the restriction to be what the president repeatedly promised it to be — a religion-driven preclusion. The court, though, was openly satisfied by pretext. Fake justification is enough for banning Muslims.

And two weeks ago, the high court’s conservatives rejected a Muslim inmate’s request that an imam be present during his execution instead of Alabama’s state-provided Christian chaplain. Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor called the majority decision “profoundly wrong” — violating the constitutional command that one religious denomination not be preferred to another. The demand for robust religious accommodation apparently runs only one way.

A few years ago, state Sen. Jerry Tillman told his hometown paper he was tired of being criticized for not aggressively expanding the state voucher program. “People say it’s great that these vouchers go to Christian schools,” he noted. “But do they want to see money go to a Catholic school, or one that teaches Islam?” Ugh.

Tillman’s instincts are hideous. But still, he ought to have a talk with Rep. Hurley.”

And the people said: “Amen.” Click here to read the entire column.

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