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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/22/13

On Nullification and North Carolina

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What is known as "The Nullification Crisis" in US history occurred in 1832-33.   It concerned a new Federal tariff that would raise the costs of imported manufactured goods.   The intent was to protect domestic manufacturers from cheap (mainly English) foreign competition.   Many of those in the South, which had little or no manufacturuing and thus had to purchase most such goods on either the domestic or foreign market, were very upset by the passage of this legislation.   In response to it, the South Carolina legislature passed an "Ordinance of Nullification" which read in part as follows (1):


" And we, the people of South Carolina, to the end that it may be fully understood by the Government of the United States, and the people of the co-States, that we are determined to maintain this, our Ordinance and Declaration, at every hazard, . . . we will consider the passage by Congress, of any act... to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce, or to enforce the acts hereby declared null and void, otherwise than through the civil tribunals of the country, as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union: and that the people of this state . . . will forthwith proceed to organize a separate Government, and do all other acts and things which sovereign and independent States may of right do...."


Less than 30 years later it was indeed South Carolina which led 11 Southern states into secession over the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, and the perceived threat posed to the institution of slavery itself.   In this case, President Andrew Jackson, himself a slave-owning Southerner, responded very forcefully, threatening the use of force just to collect Federal tariffs in South Carolina ports, much less deal with any secession.   He made it clear that neither nullification nor secession would be tolerated, that he considered even nullification to be treason, and that the Federal government would respond to either by force. The "Great Compromiser," Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, worked out a deal to achieve a gradually declining tariff, and the issue died down.


While secession of course led to the Civil War, nullification has not been on the national political agenda until fairly recently.   A quick Google search reveals two organizations devoted to promoting and organizing for nullification by the legislatures of several states of Federal statutes which they consider to be "unconstitutional" (2, 3).   Now one might think that this sort of thing is just typical right-wing fun and games.   When the right-wing dominated Supreme Court does the Right thing in determining the Constitutionality of actions of the other two branches of government in favor of Reaction, that's just fine with them.   But when it doesn't, why then, let's go back to 1832 and Nullification.  


But it's not just fun and games.   Very recently the legislature of the other Carolina, the one to the north of the original Nullifier/Seceder, decided that it could not only nullify Federal legislation that it didn't like.   It could actually proclaim that a part of the Constitution it didn't like didn't apply to North Carolina.   And so, the following resolution was passed (4): " SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion. "SECTION 2. 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."

Thus in essence the North Carolina General Assembly was (and it is "was;" the resolution has since been withdrawn) saying that neither A) the "non-establishment" clause of the First Amendment, which indeed refers only to the Congress, nor B) the Federal Supremacy Clause of Article VI, apply to the states in matters of religion.   Actually, one could make a Constitutional argument that their interpretation is correct, for the first Amendment does refer only to the Congress, and the Federal Supremacy clause refers only to the Constitution and laws made pursuant to its provisions.   But the truly important issues here only partially concern the fun and games of disputes over Constitutional Law and its interpretation.   What must be of the most concern is what this resolution was about, not whether the North Carolina General Assembly is following the provisions of the Constitution in adopting it.   

Indeed, the Republican Majority of the North Carolina General Assembly wants to do nothing more or less than establish a state religion in North Carolina.   While the resolution did not specify any particular religion, presumably they are not thinking of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or let's say, Zoroastrianism (practiced primarily in Iran with about 200,000 adherents [5].   Actually, Zoroastrianism might not be such a bad choice.   Its central tenants are [5]: " that man must enlist in this cosmic struggle [between good and evil] because of his capacity of free choice. Thus Zoroastrianism is a highly ethical religion in which the choice of good over evil has almost cosmic importance. Zarathustra [that's right; he of "Thus spake' fame] taught that humans are free to choose between right and wrong, truth and lie, and light and dark, and that their choices would affect their etern[al] destiny."   Rather humanistic, actually.)

No, it is likely that they would choose "Christianity," but not just any old version.   Certainly not Catholicism or one of the Protestant denominations that recognizes a woman's right to choose, fights for LGBT rights, and marches out in front for Civil and Voting Rights.   Yes indeed, folks we are looking here at the state establishment of a religion (and that's otherwise known as theocracy) that would criminalize abortion, likely propose, as one North Carolina preacher did last year (6), to " round up all "lesbians, queers and homosexuals,' and deposit them in an open camp surrounded by an electrified fence, and except for air-dropping food, leave them there to die," and then place "God's law" (meaning a particular reading by a particular group of men of the King James version of the Bible), above the state Constitution, just as Rick Santorum would do nationally, on issues like abortion rights (7).  

Forget the Constitutional niceties folks.   This is the threat that tolerant believers and non-believers alike are facing in this country.    And if we don't wake up to it soon, it will all be over before we know it (8).   As Ralph Reed said when he was Executive Director of the Christian Coalition a long time ago: "I paint my face black and travel at night.   You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag" (9).





1.        U.S. .


2.        "Tom Wood's Liberty Classroom," .


3.        "Nullify Now," .


4., "Nullification Nuts in North Carolina," .


5.        ReligionFacts, .


6.        Jonas, S., "Is Homophobia Curable?"


7.        Jonas, S., " The Imperative of the Republicans' Rightward Imperative," Published on BuzzFlash on Wed, 01/18/2012, .


8.        Jonas, S., The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, at Amazon: .


9.          ibid., p. 17.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
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