N.C. law rejects atheists; voters don’t

By David Waters There was a bit of suspense in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday morning about whether newly-elected city council member … Continued

By David Waters

There was a bit of suspense in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday morning about whether newly-elected city council member Cecil Bothwell should or would be sworn into office. Bothwell, who was elected last month, is an atheist. The North Carolina constitution still bars atheists from holding elected office.

“I’m not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he’s an atheist, he’s not eligible to serve in public office, according to the state constitution,” said H.K. Edgerton, a former Asheville NAACP president told the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Article 6, section 8 of the North Carolina constitution states: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” Fortunately for Bothwell, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution trumps that: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Also fortunately for Bothwell, state law allows officeholders to “affirm” rather than “swear” the oath of office, which exempted Bothwell from the state law that would have required him to “lay his hand upon the Holy Scriptures” and say, “so help me God.”

Constitutional crisis averted. Cecil Bothwell is now a member of the Asheville city council.

In an earlier email to the Asheville newspaper, Bothwell explained that the exact wording of the North Carolina constitution wouldn’t apply to him anyway. “I am not ‘an avowed atheist.’ . . . I don’t ‘deny the being of Almighty God.’ I simply consider the question of denial or acceptance irrelevant.”

Bothwell’s election — he finished third in a six-person contest with 17.28 percent of the Nov. 3 vote — is doubly impressive, considering that he is a fan of neither God nor Asheville-area resident Billy Graham, whom he called “an unabashed nationalist, capitalist, militarist and advocate for American empire” in a book he wrote entitled “The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire.”

If there ever was a wholly Christian empire in Billy Graham’s North Carolina, it ended Tuesday. Might be a good time to update that state constitution.

UPDATE: Anti-Bothwell activists are considering filing a lawsuit to test the legality of his election.

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  • Skowronek

    I wish him well. But I think we all hope that everyone elected or hired does a good job, regardless of their religion. Or lack of one.I wonder if the state constitution will be amended so as not to conflict with the U.S. Constitution.

  • Brianrrs37

    Even IF, FOR ARGUMENT’S SAKE ONLY the founders only intended for Christians to hold office, is that the type of country we want to be?We want to have the same “back of the bus” attitude as even more moderate Muslim nations such as Turkey and Morocco have in “allowing” others to exist, but still not treating them as equal humans?The fact is “no religious test” is in OUR Constitution, which means ANYONE who meets the age and citizen requirements of the Constitution CAN apply to run for office. IF that person convinces enough people to vote for them, they DO NOT have to swear to Allah, or Jesus or Darwin. Any personal oath added to the WRITTEN oath in OUR Constitution is voluntary, not mandatory. “So help me God” IS NOT WRITTEN IN THE CONSTITUTION, “No Religious Test” IS.So even if this City council member WAS an avowed atheist, like he said, would be irrelevant either way considering the ban on religious tests by the Constitution.

  • ungullible

    There are several other states that have similar wording in their Constitutions. However, they were all invalidated in 1961 U.S. Supreme Court case “Torcaso v Watkins.” The wording remains because Constitutions are amended, not rewritten. See That said, as a NC atheist (avowed, even), I’m proud of Asheville!

  • tojby_2000

    In a unanimous decision in 1961, the SCOTUS slammed Maryland’s religious. Justice Black on Torcaso: That being said, NC is likely to ignore reality and hose the duly elected atheist. It’s their god-given right.

  • lawrelwill

    The former NAACP President should read some history and find out it was thanks to Christians that we even needed to have a NAACP.

  • kert1

    Certainly, I think we all understand that the Constitution should be amended as it does not work with religious freedom. I’m sure the law stems from a time when people could not comprehend a public official who didn’t believe in God. I don’t think much has changed since nearly all officials give at least lip service to God, but this is for voters to decide personally.I am a little shocked about his words on Billy Graham and how he got elected. Not sure how 17% gets you a victory but I guess anyone could potentially get that. I really hope he recants since I have never heard such nonsense about Mr. Graham. He truely doesn’t understand Mr. Graham or what he stands for. I don’t imagine he’ll stay in office long if he doesn’t have a change of heart.

  • Brianrrs37

    He quoted the standard bull verse about “atheists being fools”.He was an anti-Semite. See Nixon tapes.He may have wanted different races of Christians to get along, but that still leaves out all others.Graham didn’t want to live up to “No religious test”. He wanted to unconstitutionally maintain, “No religious test, as long as you swear to some sect of Jesus. Those who dont can pay taxes to support our Jesus fan club”.

  • Brianrrs37

    Please tell me, or Graham for that matter, where it says IN THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, non-Christian citizens cant hold office?Graham didn’t want rights for all, he wanted the same back of the bus attitude whites had for blacks. In his case, non-Christians are to sit at the back of the bus.Until Graham says himself, “The United States Constitution does not require a religious test, and it IS ok for non-Christians to run for, and to hold office, he deserves the criticism. He doesn’t want political freedom for ALL citizens, he wants Christian monopoly of political power. SORRY, “No religious test”, makes that attitude invalid.

  • tojby_2000

    Will Lawrel wrote: The former NAACP President should read some history and find out it was thanks to Christians that we even needed to have a NAACP. ___________________________________________I think he knows that Christianized Europeans (and Jews) were the ones behind the exporting, transporting, financing and selling of countless Africans.

  • old_lib

    Skowronek, there’s not a single member of the NC General Assembly who would dare introduce legislation to take “god” out of the state constitution. The “love your neighbor as yourself” crowd would string him up!

  • bpai_99

    Truly amazing, the resentment and bigotry that epitomize the Christian Right. Do those nuts have any emotions other than anger and hatred?

  • bpai_99

    “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” – GOP Presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, 1988

  • martha6

    Thank you for this article! In the Bible Belt, no less! Gee, maybe there IS a God after all… (nah, jes kiddin’)

  • rbeigher

    What part of Article 6 of the United States Constitution don’t those dodos understand?Article 6 makes it very clear that there shall be no religious test to hold office in the United 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.”When will the lunatics ever understand there is separation of church and state in the United States of America?

  • Human-Ape

    Thanks North Carolina for making America a laughing-stock.Atheists are sane. Theists are nuts. There’s no magic in the universe, and that’s all every god ever invented is, just another word for magic.

  • Blogger43

    The full text of the article referenced in the article is “Clause 3: 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.” I am not a lawyer. I read the clause as pertaining to State and National Legislators and Judicial Officers – It pertains to any public trust under the United States … City government, is not, per se, under Federal oversight.

  • spidermean2

    When you know that there’s a cliff at the end of the road and you see a person speeding towards it passing thru all the warning signs, one can only scratch his head in disbelief. How idiotic that person can be? How silly and pathetic?The world is full of such people and these people are about to self destruct. Doomsday is coming. You can count the years in your fingers.In seconds, you can hear the car crashes off the cliff. Pitiful.

  • grossdc2

    The U.S. Constitution Article 6 Says that NO religious test shall ever be allowed to limit people from holding office and the Federal Supremacy Clause trumps the NC constitution

  • barferio

    Look at the training these people have in disreason, if I may invent that word for now.They’re told they have to believe in a god that nobody can see, smell, or otherwise know exists except without the suspension of reason.They’re given this trinity, three gods in one. Surely a word-f*ck if I ever heard one. This is training for how to swallow nonsense. Virgin birth, same thing. You’re guilty of sin because of some thing this Adam did 6000 years ago. The earth is only 6000 years old. Man walked with dinosaurs, lions ate hay .. the world is going to end next week – a lie repeated for 2000 years.Then the republicans have turned their political ideology into a religious ideology. Having a large number of already well-trained idiots ready to swallow anything in the name of their ideology can’t hurt, can it? These christians never question their faith in their god. Now they never question their faith in their political party.The republicans are thus immune from internal criticism – other than the casting out of the apostate RINOs of course.You might think the republican leadership to be smart enough to see the damage they’re doing to our future with this … but then, the leadership does truly represent the people that voted for them, doesn’t it?And the only people we have to defend us against this madness are the feckless, spineless democrats.We are in Deep SOL.

  • khote14

    I am not a lawyer. I read the clause as pertaining to State and National Legislators and Judicial Officers – It pertains to any public trust under the United States … City government, is not, per se, under Federal oversight.It is a law enacted by the state legislature of NC which is being used by the opponents in this city government. This law clearly violates Article 6. As such it is not available for this city government to use. I guess the “liberty and justice for all” crap in the pledge of allegiance doesn’t truly apply to all.And spidermean is back. I suppose the folks at the institution housing him have reinstated his internet privileges. Imagine a heaven populated by people like him – I wouldn’t go if I was asked.

  • limpscomb

    I firmly believe that eventually America will fall prey to the christian right if people like this man do not stand up and fight for their rights.We liberals and moderates are tolerant, but tolerance has limits, and this action in NC shows that. However, those against an unbeliever will not give up, and he will probably be fighting for this position again.

  • FranknErnest

    N.C.’s contitution needs to be amended immedicately, article 6 of the u.s. constitution reads:”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.”homer simpson says: “doh!”