North Carolina State Representative Dismisses Church/State Separation March 15, 2011

North Carolina State Representative Dismisses Church/State Separation

After military officials at Fort Bragg cut off the resources for Rock Beyond Belief, many people have been complaining to their local politicians. That includes George G. Cleveland, a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives. He’s also chair of the state’s Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs committee.

So it’s even more incredible that he responded to one complaint with this (emphasis mine):

Ms. [name witheld] — This is a Federal issue not a State issue. With that said I would like to point out that the Constitution States that the federal government cannot establish a religion and cannot prevent the free exercise of a religion. There is nothing in the Constitution that addresses church and state, in fact for over a hundred years the Capitol building was used as a church. This was initiated by Thomas Jefferson. The idea of separation of church and state started in the twenties by secularists who did not want prayer in the public space. They have been quite successful in redefining the Constitution on this issue. I personally believe that the Country would be better off with prayer in the public space.

Rep. George Cleveland
George.Cleveland@ncleg.net
Legislative Office Building, Room 417-A
300 North Salisbury Street
Raleigh NC 27603

How many mistakes can one guy make in that short a response…? And it’s not like he doesn’t know the First Amendment — he alludes to it right up front.

What Rep. Cleveland “personally believes” about prayer is irrelevant. The fact is that atheism deserves equal protection under the law and Fort Bragg officials didn’t give it equal footing for reasons that are still unclear.

Yes, we have freedom of religion and freedom from it, but that also includes freedom to believe in god or not believe in one. The government can’t take sides, but that’s exactly what Rep. Cleveland is doing.

His email address is in his signature line. If you have a minute, go (politely and respectfully) tell him what you think.


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  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Except that most of the court challenges to public prayer were initiated by other religions, not secularists – because they know, from experience, that all government sponsored religious practices favor one religion over others.
    (This was cited on one of the last two Non-Prophets Internet Radio show based on a survey of court cases that someone did. Can’t remember who & which show – but I’ll re-listen and get back with the info.)

  • Joe L.

    With that said I would like to point out that the Constitution States that the federal government cannot establish a religion and cannot prevent the free exercise of a religion. There is nothing in the Constitution that addresses church and state

    it almost sounds like he’s splitting hairs and claiming that the 1st amendment doesn’t apply to state law (as in North Carolina law). i.e. nothing in the Constitution that addresses “church and the State of NC or other states.” I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court has decided that the states don’t have the right to usurp federal law from the amendments.

  • @Joe L

    14th Amendment’s Supremacy clause (1867 I think) made the enforcement of the US Constitution compulsory for states, according to my own layman research before I posted on RBB.

  • P. Coyle

    it almost sounds like he’s splitting hairs and claiming that the 1st amendment doesn’t apply to state law (as in North Carolina law). i.e. nothing in the Constitution that addresses “church and the State of NC or other states.” I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court has decided that the states don’t have the right to usurp federal law from the amendments.

    Look up the article “Incorporation of the Bill of Rights” in Wikipedia. Note where it says that the First Amendment guarantee against the establishment of religion was “incorporated against the states” by the Supreme Court in 1947 in the case of Everson v Board of Education.

    One can certainly take the position that the Supreme Court was wrong. One needs to take the position that the Supreme Court can be wrong in order to hold that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or the national motto “In God We Trust” are unconstitutional.

  • I wonder how he feels about Sharia? Let me guess: Bible Law in the USA – Good; Islamic Law in the USA – OH THE HORROR!

  • Brice Gilbert

    Funny that he speaks about Jefferson who is the one who coined the term “wall of separation”.

  • P. Coyle

    14th Amendment’s Supremacy clause (1867 I think) made the enforcement of the US Constitution compulsory for states, according to my own layman research before I posted on RBB.

    The “supremacy clause” was and is part of the original Constitution, Article VI: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

    The theory behind “incorporation” is based on the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment (1868): “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

  • Blacksheep

    One can certainly take the position that the Supreme Court was wrong. One needs to take the position that the Supreme Court can be wrong in order to hold that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or the national motto “In God We Trust” are unconstitutional.

    Exactly. Both sides need to remember that it isn’t always about “upholding the Constitution” but sometimes about disagreeing with – and striving to change – the Constitution.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    It was episode 10.5, Feb 26/2011. One of the hosts read it on a blog – so I have no further details. (Rats!)

  • I live in NC, and my U.S. Representative is Brad Miller. I like Brad Miller – I like what he (normally) stands for, I like how he votes (normally), I like the way that a progressive can have a true representative working for him.

    But just as the Mighty Casey strikes out every once in a while, Rep. Miller strikes out on the separation of church and state.

    I wrote him complaining of the a resolution Representative Forbes had submitted encouraging “In God We Trust” to be placed in all public places and rejecting the notion of separation of church and state. Rep. Miller replied with a note that implied (to me at least) that he would support the resolution if it made it to the House floor. I was deeply saddened.

    Rep. Miller’s response:
    ——————————
    Thank you for contacting me about our national motto. I appreciate hearing from you.

    A concurrent resolution recently offered by Representative Randy J. Forbes would reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States. The legislation would also reject the notion that religion should be separated from government, encouraging “In God We Trust” to be displayed in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions. Concurrent resolutions reflect the spirit of Congress but do not hold the force of law.

    Our freedom depends on the widespread acceptance of certain principles of morality and on a shared sense of right and wrong. Many Americans, including me, drive our sense of right and wrong from our religious faith. It is critical to our democracy that we never forget the moral principles that we learn from our religious faith. It is just as critical that our government respect different religious beliefs and not force specific religious practices upon any unwilling person.

    Representative Forbes’ bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Although I do not serve on this committee, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind should this resolution ever reach the House floor.
    ——————————

    I will be replying to my Representative.

  • par4dcourse

    E-mail sent. Idiot.

  • M Fox

    Rep. Cleveland,

    I respectfully ask that you keep your religious delusions to yourself while representing North Carolina, otherwise, you embarrass yourself and our fine State.

    Sincerely,

    Mitzi Fox
    Pittsboro NC (sent via email)

  • ACN

    What can you do but *facepalm*?

  • Christophe Thill

    Also, how can you take people seriously when they write that “the Constitution States…”, clearly showing that they don’t see the difference between a State and the verb “to state”, unduly capitalized?

  • Please let me know if you guys get any further interaction. Rep. Cleveland is certainly not alone here, unfortunately.

    Also, I like the general tone I’m seeing here today. Probably calmer than my general take (though I was going for humor in there too in the OP).

    Thanks for the clarification on the 14th / Article VI…

  • Joe

    My letter-

    Sir,

    Don’t you think that those who have dealt with the law their entire adult lives are better suited to interpreting the constitution than you are? Your religious beliefs/brainwashing do not make you an expert on the law, nor does your standing as a state representative. What is especially concerning is your lack of knowledge regarding the history of this country. For decades, Christians zealots such as yourself have tried to rewrite the history books to suit the desires of the church, without regard to the the facts. It truly is pathetic that you are trying to rewrite this great nation’s history.

    Is American not good enough for you as it is? If it is good enough, then why are you trying to rewrite it’s past?

    Shame on you for putting your personal beliefs ahead of the law,

  • TikiCricket

    ACN:

    I think you mean *facepsalm.* 🙂

  • Jonas

    Letter Sent:

    ….The government should not be basing laws on one particular denomination of religious faith. For example: no Jew is insisting that only Kosher foods be produced. Catholics do not force everyone to give something up for Lent. This is as it should be.

    Wait for it:

    The state of Mass requires health care, and a form 1099-HC is submitted at tax time, as proof. Should states require all citizens to go to church, and let’s call it ‘1099-GOD’ forms, or face penalties?

    Hope he doesn’t read this part, and think What a great idea!!

  • Jon

    Fort Bragg offered them to have the show. The guy wanting to put on the show wanted the Federal Govt. to pay for it.
    Fort Bragg did NOT pay for the Christian show. That was paid for out of the chaplain fund which… in turn is funded by donations – NOT the federal government.
    The guy also wanted to use the main post parade field. Which, based off estimates of attendance would’ve cost more in Tax payer dollars (soldier road guards, DOD police, Directorates support) that would have been viable – he was offered, however, a theater to hold his venue – which he declined.
    Finally, the organizer’s concept plan was little more than “We’d like to do this.” He had no confirmation of any talent showing for the show nor any idea of how many people would attend.See More

  • Mark C.

    I’m completely on board with our interpretation of the separation of church and state being law (normatively). However, as I think I may have mentioned a while ago, I still can’t see how the Constitution, as it is currently written, provides for said interpretation, since it only talks about the Congress enacting certain types of laws.

    For instance, on this interpretation (which to me seems the straightforward one), a teacher wouldn’t be violating the Constitution by teaching creationism in the classroom, since doing such was not dictated or even endorsed by a law enacted by Congress or, presumably, by any other legislative body.

    Again (but rephrased), I’m not complaining, since I like our usual interpretation of the establishment and free exercise clauses. I’m just asking for clarification.

    As Blacksheep said: “Both sides need to remember that it isn’t always about ‘upholding the Constitution’ but sometimes about disagreeing with – and striving to change – the Constitution.” If it really doesn’t say what we interpret it to say, I’m all for making the necessary amendment.

  • martha

    There are Supreme Court justices who have suggested that they believe that the first amendment does not apply to the States. Thomas is an example. If the court went that route a state could establish its own official religion.

    States vary on what they have concerning religion in their own state constitutions. For example, Texas has several provisions concerning religion, including:

    “RELIGIOUS TESTS. No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

    This provision, and similar provisions under other state laws were found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1961 in the case of Torcaso v Watkins. Thomas probably would say this case was wrongly decided.

  • Steve

    Sounds like the usual “It isn’t about the separation of church and state, but only about the establishment of a state religion” nonsense.

  • Godless Lawyer

    The establishment clause is more than the words on the page. It has to be read and interpretted in the context of the constitutional jurisprudence that surrounds it.

    For instance, in 1878, the SCOTUS adopted the text of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he interpretted the establishment clause of the first amendment as ‘building a wall of separation between church and state’ as an authoritative interpretation of its meaning. The effect of this is essentially to incorporate this language into the constitution itself.

  • P. Coyle

    I’m completely on board with our interpretation of the separation of church and state being law (normatively). However, as I think I may have mentioned a while ago, I still can’t see how the Constitution, as it is currently written, provides for said interpretation, since it only talks about the Congress enacting certain types of laws.

    Our present legal situation in the U.S., courtesy of the courts, is a very odd one. On the one hand, the courts have upheld the constitutionality of “one nation under God” and “In God We Trust,” despite the fact that the official form of the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto were both established by acts of Congress. Those two acts, it seems to me, are straightforward violations of the First Amendment and should have been struck down as such; the 14th Amendment need not even have come into play. On the other hand, the courts have struck down actions by bodies or individuals operating ultimately under state authority (a teacher in a public school classroom would be a case in point), even though the First Amendment, which speaks expressly of Congress, should not come into play (though it does because of the 14th Amednment and the theory of “incorporation”).

    Even more curiously, some Supreme Court justices have asserted that “under God” and “In God We Trust” are phrases devoid of religious significance:

    I would suggest that such practices as the designation of “In God We Trust” as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in Dean Rostow’s apt phrase, as a form a “ceremonial deism,” protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.

    (Justice Brennan, dissenting opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984). The phrase “ceremonial Deism” was invoked again by Justice O’Connor in her concurring opinion in Elk Grove Unified School District v Newdow in 2004.

    One legal scholar has noted,

    “‘Ceremonial Deism’ is an odd name for a ritual affirmation that a Deist would be very reluctant to endorse, since Deists think of God as a rational causal principle but not as a personal judge and father.”

    To put it another way, if “under God” and “In God We Trust” pass constitutional muster because they are expressions of “ceremonial Deism”,” then, by the very definition of the term “Deism,” Congress was presumably rejecting traditional trinitarian Christianity when it enacted those phrases into law.

    If you buy that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you as well.

  • P. Coyle

    There are Supreme Court justices who have suggested that they believe that the first amendment does not apply to the States. Thomas is an example. If the court went that route a state could establish its own official religion.

    Indeed, prior to the Fourteenth Amendment, there’s absolutely no doubt that they could have. The First Amendment did not disestablish the Congregationalist Church in Connecticut, for example.

    The argument, I think, is whether the Fourteenth can reasonably be interpreted as prohibiting state churches.

  • frizzlefrazzle

    @Jon

    “See More” – yes please. Maybe you could link the article/blog/message board you copied that from. Was it Fox News? Please tell me it was Fox News? Was it? Well? It was Fox News, wasn’t it?

  • Josh Evolved

    Here’s my letter to Rep. Cleavland

    Dear Mr. Cleavland,

    I am writing in response to your statement, “I personally believe that the country would be better off with prayer in public.” This statement, as a tax-paying American citizen concerns me to great length.

    It also begs many questions, first of which being: which religion should be enforced? You obviously understand the first amendment so I won’t bore you with that, however this statement shows a bias towards one religion. Need I remind you that this country is not 100% your sect of Christianity, and that there are many Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and people of Baha’i faith that reside in this country. Your statement is an affront to those people, to the same people that make this country the brilliant melting pot that it is.

    I can’t think of a single law that says an individual isn’t allowed to pray in public, that is a manner of free speech, but as an ELECTED official you can not show public preference to one faith or another; to do so is to violate this countries soul. Freedom doesn’t just apply to you, your faith, or those with like-minds as yours. It is a matter of forced, or preferential, prayer over those of differing ideologies.

    How would you feel if you were forced to recite a Muslim prayer appeasing Allah? As a Christian you would be offended, would you not? So imagine how American Muslims feel when the person who supposed to represent them ignores their faith in light of his own? Place yourself in others shoes to see how it feels, otherwise you are doing an abysmal job as an elected representative.

    Obviously you wish to support your Christian constituents, but there has to be a balance to that, and to violate another person in such a way is disgusting. Should Congress and the Senate start with an opening prayer? Absolutely not. But what is stopping YOU from praying to your god yourself? Nothing. Doing so from a public pulpit is wrong, wrong on so many levels.

    It is also harmful and negligent to say such things as there are many non-religious people in this country, myself included, that are GOOD people; good people without your god or any god. You are basically saying that anybody without a faith, specifically your own, are bad people and harm the public sphere. I routinely help those who need help, never stopping to find out their belief. A person in need is a person in need, you should have that same view. Religion belongs in your heart, your home, and in your place of worship; not in laws, policies, or publicly funded buildings.

    I thank you for your time and hope to hear back from regarding this issue.

    Sincerely,
    Joshua Pearson