Thursday, April 11, 2013

No State Religions: Separation of Church and State, Part 4

Yesterday, someone who reads my blog (it's very exciting, that somebody reads the blog) sent me this link to an article about a North Carolina state representative who equated praying to Allah, as Muslims do, with terrorism.  She said this while being questioned about a bill she co-sponsored, which was an attempt to establish Christianity as North Carolina's state religion.

No state religions, folks, got that?  It's against the First Amendment.

The representative in question, Michelle Presnell, is a first-termer from Burnsville, NC, seat of Yancy County.  In 2000, Burnsville had a population of 1,623 people, and I doubt it's bigger now.  It happens that I know this particular part of North Carolina fairly well.  Yancy sits in the western North Carolina mountains; it adjoins Avery County, where I have a mountain home.  It's rural, underdeveloped--pastoral, but not exactly worldly.  I would bet Ms. Presnell never met an actual Muslim in her life.  I bet she's very surprised at the coverage her offhand comment has gotten.  I bet she's in way over her head.

I'm not excusing her.  I think a primer on the Constitution ought to be required reading for everyone who gets elected to public office.  But I also think that her comment, and her bill on a state religion, illustrate an aggravating tendency most of us have, whether we like to admit it or not, which is to lump everyone who seems different from us into a ball and call them "other."  I see this all the time when I talk about my work at Faith in Action.  "Oh," somebody says, "The Poor have too many children."  Or, "The Poor are lazy."  Or something else, but The Poor, a great big lump of I-am-not-them, I-don't-understand-them, and I'm-not-going-to-try.

I-am-not-them, I-don't-understand-them, and I'm-not-going-to-try. 

But now I have to confess my own bias, which just tripped me up.  In my original version of this post I wrote, "The friend who read my blog and sent the link included the comment, "Republicans=hypocrisy."" and I went on to say,  "I nailed her on it.  Republicans=hypocrisy is the same format as Muslims=terrorists, and we've absolutely got to stop doing that.  We have to start listening to each other."

What she actually said was, "So, Christian prayer = religious freedom, Islamic prayer = terrorism. I'm guessing atheist = deportation?  Republican, thy name is hypocrisy."  Which is different.  It's not a lot different, as it does still seem to lump all Republicans together, but it is different, and I'm sorry I made her sound more extreme than she did.  I wasn't listening as well as I should.

We have to start respecting viewpoints other than our own, and the way to do that, I'm convinced, is to listen to people who are not like us.  Find them, and hear their stories.

We all of us have more in common than we think.


  1. First off, I agree with the great majority of this post.

    That said, I did not say "republicans= hypocrisy", I said "Republican thy name is hypocrisy", and it should be taken in the context of the entire post. I was not saying that all republicans are hypocritical, my discussion was regarding that individual (I guess I was trying unsuccessfully to use a modification of a quote from Hamlet and on further rumination, to do it right, I should have reversed the words "republican" and "hypocrisy"). In later discussion, I said that I believe the vast majority of republican politicians are hypocritical, which I do.

    Back to the topic at hand, I think our nation is in real danger of losing our first amendment rights, and it scares the crap out of me. I would label myself a secular humanist (atheist has negative connotations, and I would rather define myself by what I believe rather than what I don't believe), but as you have noted, the non-religious are not the only ones who should be worried when religion gets injected into politics. Who's to say which variation of Christianity would become the state religion, had the law passed? Obviously, Kim, your version of Christianity (fairly liberal Catholicism, from what I have seen) and that of a rural NC Christian fundamentalist are quite different.

    What I consider the most ironic part of the quotes from this representative said is that she feels she is fighting for religious freedom. Which, apparently, means the freedom of majority religions to impose their rules on the population as a whole. Which sounds a whole lot like Sharia law.

  2. Sorry, Jess! I need to be more careful. I've edited the blog to show my mistake. And I admit freely that the idea of some types of Christianity taking over the world would likely scare me as much as you.

    I find it weird that anyone thinks Christianity is being threatened in this country. Christianity is pretty mainstream. My guess is that what people who claim so mean is that their worldview is being threatened. Change is scary.

  3. My first reply came before your modification. The way it was going through when I typed it initially was the republican in question (as in "republican thy name...") was Rep. Presnell. When I read it, I did not hear "all republicans are hypocrites". Apparently you did but that is not what I was SAYING.

    Regardless, I thing we are straying from the more important issue at hand, and that is that the First Amendment of our Constitution is under attack all over the country. Ironically, by a subset of republicans that tends to do a whole lot of flag waving and accusing liberals (and moderates, for that matter) of being unpatriotic and un-American. Although lately, it seems the only part of the Bill of Rights that they support is a completely unregulated version of the Second Amendment.


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