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North Carolina - Atheists Not Allowed to Hold Office

 
 
Reply Sat 13 Mar, 2010 11:33 pm
CBS News wrote:
Effort to Remove Atheist From City Council
Conservatives Cite N.C. Constitution as Disqualifying Officeholders Who "Deny the Being of Almighty God"


(AP) Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell believes in ending the death penalty, conserving water and reforming government - but he doesn't believe in God. His political opponents say that's a sin that makes him unworthy of serving in office, and they've got the North Carolina Constitution on their side.

Bothwell's detractors are threatening to take the city to court for swearing him in, even though the state's antiquated requirement that officeholders believe in God is unenforceable because it violates the U.S. Consititution.

"The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me and it's certainly not relevant to public office," the recently elected 59-year-old said.

Bothwell ran this fall on a platform that also included limiting the height of downtown buildings and saving trees in the city's core, views that appealed to voters in the liberal-leaning community at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. When Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternative oath that doesn't require officials to swear on a Bible or reference "Almighty God."

That has riled conservative activists, who cite a little-noticed quirk in North Carolina's Constitution that disqualifies officeholders "who shall deny the being of Almighty God." The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and wasn't revised when North Carolina amended its constitution in 1971. One foe, H.K. Edgerton, is threatening to file a lawsuit in state court against the city to challenge Bothwell's appointment.

"My father was a Baptist minister. I'm a Christian man. I have problems with people who don't believe in God," said Edgerton, a former local NAACP president and founder of Southern Heritage 411, an organization that promotes the interests of black southerners.

The head of a conservative weekly newspaper says city officials shirked their duty to uphold the state's laws by swearing in Bothwell. David Morgan, editor of the Asheville Tribune, said he's tired of seeing his state Constitution "trashed."

Bothwell can't be forced out of office over his atheist views because the North Carolina provision is unenforceable, according to the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. Six other states, Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, have similar provisions barring atheist officeholders.

In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that federal law prohibits states from requiring any kind of religious test to serve in office when it ruled in favor of a Maryland atheist seeking appointment as a notary public.

But the federal protections don't necessarily spare atheist public officials from spending years defending themselves in court. Avowed atheist Herb Silverman won an eight-year court battle in 1997 when South Carolina's highest court granted him the right to be appointed as a notary despite the state's law.

Bothwell said a legal challenge to his appointment would be "fun," but believes his opponents' efforts have more to do with politics than religious beliefs.

"It's local political opponents seeking to change the outcome of an election they lost," said Bothwell, who's lived in Asheville nearly three decades and wrote the city's best-selling guide book.

Bothwell was raised a Presbyterian but began questioning Christian beliefs at a young age and considered himself an atheist by the time he was 20. He's an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and he still celebrates Christmas, often hanging ornaments on his Fishhook cactus.

Bothwell said his spiritual views don't matter to most of his constituents. Bothwell is a registered Democrat but didn't run on a party ticket in the nonpartisan Council election.

Even if he can't force Bothwell out of office, Edgerton said he hopes a legal battle would ultimately force North Carolina's Legislature to determine the legality of the article of the Constitution.

"If the law is wrong, it is the obligation of the Legislature to say it's wrong," he said.

Provisions like North Carolina's tend to stay on the books because lawmakers would rather not spend time weeding-out outdated laws, said Duke University Law School Professor Joseph Blocher.

"I mean, there are state laws against spitting in the street," he said. "Why spend the time?"

But the battle is important to Silverman, who says there are scores of other atheist politicians afraid to "come out of the closet." He cited U.S. Rep. Pete Stark of California, the first and only congressman to publicly acknowledge he doesn't believe in God.

"We're trying to change our culture to the point where it's not political suicide," Silverman said.

source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/12/12/national/main5972190.shtml

So, unless I've missed it, I haven't seen any thread about this here on A2K. I have two questions.

1) How was this even allowed to get into NC constitution in the first place?
2) Oh come on, really?

okay three questions...

3) Who are these assholes that are trying to remove him? Local nuts or do they represent some actual conservative movement?

T
K
O
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sat 13 Mar, 2010 11:47 pm
Assholes.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 12:34 am
@Diest TKO,
Isn't that unconstitutional?

Even in North Carolina?
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 04:27 am
@dlowan,
It can be seen as a violation of the "no establishment" clause--but it is not the function of Federal judiciary to diligently search state and local laws and by-laws and weed out those which violate or seem to violate portions of the American constitution. Only insofar as someone takes legal action against someone else, and that person objects that the statute under which they are prosecuted is not legally valid, or a Federal prosecutor takes legal actions against an agent or agency of government for violating civil rights would such a matter come up for review in the Federal courts. If no one has ever been prosecuted for an offense, or been denied their civil liberties under such a provision--or, having been so prosecuted or denied, has not sought relief in the Federal court system, then it would never have been reviewed.

According to what i've been able to find online, this provision along with several others were held over from the 1868 constitution when a new constitution was put before the voters and approved (by about 5-3), resulting in the 1971 constitution of the state. Since that time, this atheist was elected to the Ashville city council, and a private individual has threatened to sue the city. The election, held in December of last year, is too recent for a case to have found it's way to the Federal courts, and i have found no information to the effect that any U.S. Attorney's office has intervened.

If the city of Asheville were sued (it seems that it would be sued for violating the 1971 constitution in allowing a council member who is an acknowledged atheist to be seated), then they might come under the scrutiny of a U.S. Attorney. If the city were sued, and vindicated in the state courts, then there would be no need for Federal intervention.

Only if the city were sued, lost, appealed in the state court system, lost, and eventually appealed to the Federal courts would this come under Federal judicial scrutiny. It is, in the slow grind of government and the courts, a far too recent event to have made it that far through the system. And, this is one of those sorts of things in which the councilman might well serve his entire term before it were resolved in the courts, if it even ever ends up in the courts. Remember, someone has to take someone else to court over the matter for it to be reviewed.
0 Replies
 
maporsche
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 09:40 am
This is such bullshit.
0 Replies
 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 09:43 am
reminds me of littleK's thread about how can atheists deal/cope with our society while being an atheist.
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 09:48 am
@Diest TKO,
Diest TKO wrote:
3) Who are these assholes that are trying to remove him? Local nuts or do they represent some actual conservative movement?



Don't they represent the majority American view (not just conservative/conservative movement)?
maporsche
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 09:52 am
@ehBeth,
I think so. I don't think an open-atheist has the majority support of even liberals. There are segments of the usually-vote-democrat crowd who are extremely religious (black people come to mind as being usually democratic voters, who are also very religious), who I believe would have a hard time voting for an atheist.
0 Replies
 
maporsche
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 10:12 am
Who?
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 10:27 am
@dyslexia,
Yes it does, Dys, but the thread (so far) has been a lot more polite.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:04 am
and how exactly is this a separation of church and state
0 Replies
 
George
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:04 am
@littlek,
Stay tuned.
0 Replies
 
George
 
  5  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:08 am
Seems to me, it's in the interest of believers to get rid of nonsense like this.
It's not a big step from banning those who don't believe in God to banning
those who don't believe in a particular version of God.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:11 am
@George,
at least they haven't threatened to burn him at the stake




yet
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:36 am
@George,
George wrote:

Seems to me, it's in the interest of believers to get rid of nonsense like this.
It's not a big step from banning those who don't believe in God to banning
those who don't believe in a particular version of God.


Absolutely on target, George. I think that theists should be terribly concerned about the efforts of these numbskulls to remove a duly elected official. This isn't about atheism; it's about freedom of speech and the dictates of one's conscience. To paraphrase what you said, it's not a big step from banning unbelievers in a God-fearing community to banning believers by members of a generally atheistic community. Both actions violate the Constitution.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:53 am
@dlowan,
dlowan wrote:
Isn't that unconstitutional?

It would be if someone was trying to force Bothwell out through some state action. As the article says:

CBS News wrote:
Bothwell can't be forced out of office over his atheist views because the North Carolina provision is unenforceable, according to the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But there is nothing unconstitutional about initiating a political campaign against a person, using the moral authority of the state constitution as a weapon against him. Douchebaggy? You bet. But it's not justiciable.

Maybe this unpleasant episode will have a good side effect of proving that discrimination against atheism is real. And that shameful provisions in state constitutions influence the political discourse even when they're unenforcable.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:57 am
@littlek,
Thanks to my ignore button, I never saw an impolite remark in your thread.
0 Replies
 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 11:58 am
it's quite possible things have changed but in my earlier days hanging around utah, it was de facto illegal to elect to any office a catholic, lutheran, baptist (any defined christian not a mormon)
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 01:18 pm
@dyslexia,
Things have changed, dys. Just a few years ago, in Salt Lake City, I was invited to dinner by a self-professed Lutheran, a member of the state legislature. He and his wife spent the evening excoriating the Mormon majority they have to deal with.
George
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Mar, 2010 02:27 pm
@Merry Andrew,
Merry Andrew wrote:

. . . He and his wife spent the evening excoriating the Mormon majority they
have to deal with.

Heh-heh. I first read that as exorcising.
0 Replies
 
 

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