The News & Observer published a column today in which UNC law professor Gene Nichol cited examples of “Governing for Christians.” They include:

  • A Republican wanting to keep ABC stores closed on Sundays, the “Lord’s Day”
  • Republicans wanting to the put the U.S. coin slogan “In God We Trust” on public schools and as an option for state license plates
  • A Republican law allowing magistrates not to participate in same-sex marriages if they have religious objections
  • The Supreme Court allowing a baker not to be forced to create a cake to which he had religious objections to (Nichol characterized this as “Christian privilege”)
  • The Supreme Court allowing a high school football coach to pray after the game, in full view of people (“leaving his team unattended”)
  • The Supreme Court letting stand the president’s “Muslim travel ban” (yes, a law professor actually opted for that phrase to depict the issue) and the state of Alabama’s troubling rejection of a Muslim death-row inmate’s request to have an imam present rather than a Christian chaplain
  • A Republican objecting to school vouchers for fear they might also be used by Catholics and Muslims — Nichol’s past writings have made it clear that school vouchers are bad not only because “mostly religious” people like them, but especially because they don’t keep poor kids stuck in whatever public school the school district tells them to be in

Curiously, in his string of examples of religious beliefs being used to push political ends, no matter how silly or controversial, Nichol leaves out the “Moral Monday” protests in which he has participated. Eh, it’s probably an oversight.

Photos by Don Carrington taken at the same “Moral Monday” protest, July 9, 2013

Nor does Nichol draw a conclusion. Like many others, his preference appears to be for the reader to provide the conclusion he dare not state outright. Such as: Gosh, we need to get rid of the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion because it may offend people.

That’s where Nichol is and has been for quite some time.

This is a man who, upon gaining the presidency of the College of William & Mary, had a cross removed from the altar of a 400-year-old church on campus. In his mind, despite four centuries of evidence contra, a hypothetical non-Christian student could enter Wren Chapel, see the cross, and somehow conclude he wasn’t welcome on campus. So Nichol unilaterally took it out.

In short order, donors to the university took their donations out. Friends of the university and the chapel took their objections out in the press and public. Someone even took a lawsuit out. And before the college’s Board of Rectors took Nichol out, he abruptly resigned after being informed his contract would not be renewed, but not before he begrudgingly restored the cross — hermetically sealed in a glass box so as to keep its pulsating Christianism from radiating out and infecting passers-by like a bad sci-fi movie plot.

(I’m kidding, of course, about the rationale behind the glass box. In truth, I’m not sure what it was expected to accomplish, other than serve as a gesture of feckless contempt.)

The logical progression of freedom of religion to speech and press

Still, I wonder if the N&O editors have considered where Nichol is actually leading. To get rid of the First Amendment is, well, to get rid of the First Amendment. That would eliminate, in order:

  • Freedom of religion (freedom of religious establishments to set and hold their doctrines, freedom of people to hold and practice their faiths openly, freedom of people not to hold a specific religious or irreligious doctrine, freedom from being coerced to act against conscience, etc.)
  • Freedom of speech (not just talking, but writing, artistic expression, not being coerced to speak, etc. — in order of importance, it’s the next logical step once you’ve recognized that people are free to believe and practice their faith freely)
  • Freedom of the press (which follows naturally: people who can share their religious beliefs openly, and who can share their thoughts in general openly, can therefore share them openly in publication — it’s a mere ten words after the Free Exercise clause, N&O, how can you miss it?)
  • Freedom to assemble peacefully (freedom to meet, including to protest, etc. — again, it follows naturally from the other established freedoms)
  • Freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances (which follows from all the above, that people must be able to — as they say — “speak truth to power,” given that the true power is endowed within the people)

I understand — no, strike that; I realize that the cause du jour is reflexive “resistance” no matter how goofy or self-defeating it might be. This urge to virtue-signal is all-consuming, and even sensibility and defensibility must succumb.

But even for the fun of “owning” the religious Right, if a newspaper were to egg on the destruction of any or all of the First Amendment, it would be terminally stupid.