An atheist trapped between two constitutions 5

From the Citizen Times, Asheville, North Carolina:

North Carolina’s constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office.

Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that law to argue he should not be seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S. Constitution.

Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month.

“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.

Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

Rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state constitution, said Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.

“I think there’s any number of federal cases that would view this as an imposition of a religious qualification and violate separation of church and state,” said Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice.

In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Maryland’s requirement for officials to declare belief in God violated the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Additionally, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Bothwell’s campaign treasurer, Jake Quinn, said everyone should be entitled to their own beliefs.

“The test occurred on (Nov. 3),” Quinn said. “It was called an election.” …

We aren’t very perturbed for Cecil Bothwell who seems to be a lefty sort of guy. But it will be interesting to see how the constitutional contradiction is resolved.

  • NC's constitution sounds like that of Islamic Republic of Iran to me. Am I wrong?

  • Of course I agree with all of you that an atheist should be as eligible as anyone else for any elected office, including the presidency of the US.

    bill: wouldn't there also be arguments between Republicans and Libertarians on fighting wars in foreign lands? Aren't most American Libertarians isolationists? And aren't there other thorny issues? There have been in the past. Although I think of myself as a libertarian conservative I stopped being a friend and patron of the Libertarian Alliance in Britain when some of them announced that they were historical revisionists – even bluntly (and absurdly) Holocaust revisionists. And some defended the use of children for pornography – 'as long as the child is paid' one said. I'm appalled by the exploitation and corruption of children. But perhaps the revisionism and the pro-child-porn views are not held by even a minority of Libertarians in America?

  • aeschines

    I'm going to join the chorus on this one. It's incredibly disturbing that such a religious test is actually allowed to take place. I thought we lived in a country that was founded on the belief that a man's character is the ultimate test of his suitability, not his religion (or lack thereof).

    I don't like the left one bit, but religion is a much bigger foe. Remember, the most dangerous people on Earth (the Muslims) are considered very right of the political spectrum. Think about this – would you rather have Obama as president or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of the United States?

  • bill

    I agree with masonryan. And the precedent in Maryland in 1961 should mean Bothwell should remain in office.

    Atheists are becoming more common as a percentage of our population in America. In another generation the bloc of Atheists will be so huge that the Republican Party will have to stop bowing to religious organizations and compete with the Libertarian Party. I suppose the only arguments between Republicans and Libertarians in that scenario would be over legalization of victimless crimes.

  • Regardless of Bothwell's political leaning, we should all find this disturbing. It's a clear breach of the U.S. Constitution.