View Full Version : I guess the US Constitution doesn't apply in NC

12-14-2009, 01:31 PM
...and Christians whine and complain that THEY are the ones who are discriminated against...

Lawsuit threatened over atheist councilman in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. -- 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.

John Smith
12-14-2009, 01:38 PM

Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 01:38 PM
Article VI, section 3 of the US Constitution states:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

John of Phoenix
12-14-2009, 02:19 PM
What do democrats, major cities, the past governor, legislative leadership, demographics etc. have to do with ignoring the Constitution?

12-14-2009, 02:44 PM
Is SamF behind this?

Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 03:11 PM
erster has tried to distract from the irrelevance of his post #4 by #6’s interesting fabrication that “ . . . coming from California. The state's newpaper [sic] of record is not covering this story.”

This story spread all over from the Sacramento Bee to the New York Times after the AP picked up the original coverage by the Asheville Citizen-Times. I don’t know if any state, even a small souther state, has but one newspaper “of record” but the Citizen-Times is the primary source for local news like this, just as the Cape Cod Times is for my area.

As the story points out, that provision is not enforceable, but it can be used by right wingers as a nuisance issue. The story going national also has the regrettable effect of bolstering some stereotypes about southern politics.

The only question is, does erster know when he’s making stuff up?

Phillip Allen
12-14-2009, 03:18 PM
if you don't like folks flying airplanes into buildings and blowing themselves up in crowds then keep religion seperate from government...if that's too complicated to understand then please don't vote

Ian McColgin
12-14-2009, 03:40 PM
I think erster has a real point about the thread title, as opposed to the actual AP story. As I believe I mentioned above, "The story going national also has the regrettable effect of bolstering some stereotypes about southern politics."

It may well have gotten such play so that we could snigger down our bi-coastal noses at the crackers. Yet we've seen from the story that: "Six other states, Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, have similar provisions barring atheist officeholders." Not all southerners there and besides you can find those attitudes running strong in lots of places. Like try being an open atheist in eastern Washington state.

John of Phoenix
12-14-2009, 03:45 PM
I did not see anything in this case that links the state to its interpretation of the constitution.

Second paragraph:
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.

Anything else?

12-14-2009, 03:53 PM
erster -

Please forgive the hyperbole in the thread title...but it is not entirely without merit. It is, after all, the STATE CONSTITUION that contains the legal requirement that elected officials believe in God. It is also the responsibility of the state government to enforce and uphold the provisions of the state constitution, is it not? Yet, the state governemnt of NC has allowed the offending requirement to stay in the state constituion, preserving a clearly unconstituional (US) law which in turn opens the door to legal harrassment of non-belivers as described in the article. Therefore, I think it reasonable to say that the STATE -as represented by its government - is either willfully ignorant of the US constituion, of the opinion that it does not apply to NC or derelict in its duty.

12-14-2009, 04:17 PM
Again this is an argument that will not go away...

I think you're conflating two separate issues. The issue raised by the article is whether the state of NC's constitutional requiremnt that an office holder believe in God is constituional. I think that it's pretty darned clear that it is not - see the quote form the constitution that Ian posted earlier. It's a pretty straightforward issue: Is the requirement of the NC consitution unconstitutional?

The other issue - which is not addressed by the article - is the proper role of religious faith in government. We can have endless debates about that subject.

We can also have endless debates about the motives of the people pushing for a lawsuit, the motives of thepress in publicising the case, the motives of the legislators who have failed to remove the requirement from the state constitution, etc.