I was sitting here listening to the University of North Carolina’s student radio station play “Hotrod to Hell,” a cut from Elvis Hitler’s new album Disgraceland (you think I could make that up?), and somehow the time seemed right for another round-up of Southern news that they’ve probably been keeping from you.

Speaking of the higher learning, for example, I’ll bet you didn’t see the note in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the faculty-staff directory at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that lists under “Education, College of” an entry for the “Readin Center.”

The lower learning made the news, too. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that Mississippi ranks second only to Arkansas in public-school paddlings. In a recent year nearly fifty thousand Mississippi students—one in eight—heard the tune of the hickory stick. For what it’s worth, the Magnolia State also had the lowest percentage of “seriously emotionally disturbed” children in I its schools. Spare the rod and—? No, surely not.

In other news from Southern education, back here in the soi-disant Southern Part of Heaven one of our students recently reported the theft of his license plate. Not his car, his license plate—a vanity number that read “POONTANG.” Some innocent in the state motor vehicle department must have let that one by, or maybe it’s protected by the First Amendment. But the First Amendment cuts both ways when it comes to license plates. I read that ACLU types in Maryland have objected to plates with messages like “GOD IS.” At last report, the state was going to recall plates with religious messages. You figure it out.

Not long ago, on US 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham (what used to be called the Jefferson Davis Highway—and whatever happened to the signs?) I saw an evil-looking young man with a black goatee driving a car with license number “MB 666.” If we’re going to interfere with religious messages, let’s start with that one, OK?

This religion business does keep coming up when people talk about the South. In the November issue of Channels, a trade magazine for broadcasters, a writer of the television program Designing Women talked about an episode in which one of the Southern women of the title wants to become a Baptist preacher but is turned down because she’s a female. The writer, a Southerner herself, said that even though the show was critical of Baptist traditionalism, it drew “negative comments within the industry” because “some people assumed that we were trying to do a Jerry Falwell thing!”

Poor Jerry. Another cheap shot. But the woman has a point. Apparently treating evangelical Protestantism at all is viewed with suspicion. Certainly it is unusual. “You would have thought we’d done a show about the leprechauns or something,” the writer said. “No one has ever in the history of prime time television done a sitcom about Baptists. . . . “

By the way, when the National Organization for Women recently published a book called The State-by- State Guide to Women’s Legal Rights, ranking the states according to how well they comply with the liberal view of what women need, the three “best” were Washington, Massachusetts, and New York. Of the five “worst” only Nevada is outside Dixie; the other four are Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia—setting for Designing Women and Charlene’s thwarted vocation.

Ah, Georgia. Did you notice how many of the news stories filed from the Democratic Convention last summer mentioned the number of “table dancing” establishments in Atlanta? It’s surprising how many reporters found time to check out this traditional Atlanta art form. Andy Young’s municipal government anticipated exactly the sort of stories that were written, but attempts to close these places failed. It’s that ol’ debbil First Amendment again. (Freedom of expression? Of worship?) Yankees have always said that Southern men put women on pedestals, but I don’t think this is what they meant.

Incidentally, I don’t know why people haven’t done sitcoms about Baptists. Lord knows they can be funny. Listen to the Reverend Joseph Chambers, for example. According to the Charlotte Observer, he told a meeting on AIDS that “Prayer always works. Condoms work only 80 percent of the time.”

Pardon my free-associating, but that reminds me of a recent New York Times story about a new champagne. Are you ready for Marquis de Sade Private Reserve Grand Cru, vintage 1981, about $45 the bottle F.O.B. Paris? Its marketing director says: “I don’t think it will be a huge success in the Bible Belt.” But, he adds, “it will do very well in New York, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco.” Yes, indeed.

Tell you what, we’d leave them alone if they’d leave us alone. But here comes a smarty-pants Washington lawyer—two words that should terrify and nauseate honest folk everywhere—to sue the state of North Carolina, challenging a law that exempts the Bible from state sales tax. The former Duke student is suing on behalf of two members of the ACLU, a Jew, and two Hindus who want Bible-buyers to render unto Caesar.

For my part, I find it charming that North Carolina doesn’t tax Holy Writ but (unlike most states) does tax the sale of food. That eloquently bespeaks a conviction that (all together now) man does not live by bread alone. Maybe you read that somewhere. Incidentally, the Charlotte Observer reports that a marketing survey ranking the top hundred markets according to the percentage of households in which the Bible is read regularly put Charlotte 14th, with 28 percent, compared to a national average of 18 percent. I guess cheap Bibles could be one reason.

In a probably unrelated development the Associated Press reports that Charlotte leads the nation in per capita ketchup consumption. (Three of the top five cities were Southern: Atlanta and Memphis were the other two, with Minneapolis and Omaha tagging along.) Rick Carter of the Hickory House in Charlotte said folks put the red goop on “just about everything.” “It’s just like beer—they suck it down.” Between services.

Speaking of things the pinko secular-humanist liberal hermaphrodites don’t want us to do, remember the old joke about the teacher who sees some kids kneeling in the hall (“What are you all doing?” “Shooting dice.” “Oh, that’s all right—I thought you were praying.”)? Well, last year in Marion, North Carolina, three children were suspended from grade school not for praying but for preaching. Matthew and Duffey Strode were witnessing outside Eastfield Elementary School one morning before school, when principal Jim Gorst bade them desist and come inside.

Ten-year-old Duffey replied: “Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees.”

Not to be outdone, five-year-old Matthew observed: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled. But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

Six-year-old sister Pepper kept the silence enjoined upon her sex, but the principal suspended all three anyway.

Meanwhile, some other Tar Heel schools faced a different sort of First Amendment issue. Down the road in Durham, an administrator at Githens Junior High School confiscated a student’s denim jacket because it had a rebel flag on the sleeve, and a number of other high-school and junior-high students were suspended when they defied orders not to wear such patches. One administrator defended his actions by saying that displays of the flag might cause trouble. A local commentator rightly observed that on that basis Ole Miss was right to refuse admission to James Meredith.

Excuse me if I exit editorializing, would you? This annoys me right smart.

Look, we’re not talking here about including the rebel emblem in a state flag the way Mississippi and Georgia do. We’re not talking about flying it over the statehouse, like Alabama, or including it as part of policemen’s uniforms, like Franklin, Tennessee. We’re not talking about selling Confederate flag license plates in state-run agencies, as in North Carolina. In each of these cases, maybe there is something to be said for getting government out of the act. Maybe.

But in Durham all we had was some teenaged Hank Williams Jr. fans who are proud to be Southern boys. They’re not Hitler Youth (the kid whose jacket was taken said in an interview that he thinks “the Klan’s a bunch of jerks”). You might ask why schools that long ago abandoned dress codes get to make up new ones on the spot. Since every Satanist and tabledancer in the South seems to be protected by the First Amendment, why not these lads?

Of course, students’ rights have never been a big number down here. Recall those paddling statistics. But there is a wonderful irony in the fact that one of the teachers enforcing those improvised rules was reportedly wearing a “Black by Popular Demand” T-shirt.