To the Editor:
There are conflicting lights in which to view the co-sponsorship by Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, of the ill-founded, ill-fated state religion resolution. Neither is flattering to her or comforting to the public.
In one, she’s a witless wonder who couldn’t pass a high school history test or an immigrant’s citizenship exam.
In the other, she’s a willful demagogue, the kind who says things she knows aren’t true in order to satisfy or exploit the emotions of gullible constituents.
By either interpretation, she was faithless to her oath to support the Constitution of the United States.
The resolution to which Presnell lent her name and the dignity of her office declared that the First Amendment’s establishment clause does not apply to states, cities, or schools; that the federal courts have no power to determine “what is or is not constitutional,” that the state could establish an official religion if it chose; and that federal court rulings to the contrary would not be respected by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Such claptrap brings to mind the “interposition” resolutions by which some Southern rabble-rousers thundered their defiance of the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decisions a half century ago.
When Florida’s legislature did so, Gov. LeRoy Collins wrote upon the document that if it were to be taken seriously, it was “anarchy and rebellion against the nation.” Col-lins knew, of course that interposition would be futile. Nonetheless, he saw harm in it. “I decry it as an evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria,” he wrote.
That’s what is so wrong with what Presnell has done. She encourages disrespect for the Constitution, for the courts, and for the minority religious faiths which would be the sure losers under any state religion imposed by people like her (She compounded that damage by referring to Islam, in an e-mail to a constituent, as “terrorism.”). Her sorry message lingers even though the House speaker has effectively killed the resolution, which was spawned by a court challenge to the Rowan County Commission’s insistence on opening its meetings with exclusively Christian prayers.
With the First Amendment, Congress intended to put an end forever to such abuses as had been practiced by established churches in Virginia and Massachusetts. Federal courts have had the explicit power to interpret and apply the Constitution for more than two centuries. In the context of the Little Rock desegregation crisis, the Supreme Court declared unanimously in 1958 that “No state legislative, executive, or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.” That applies even to back-benchers like Presnell.
Martin A. Dyckman