Cecil Bothwell was elected to the Asheville, North Carolina city council. Mr. Bothwell has also admitted that he “believes in the Golden Rule but finds the question of whether there is a God or not ‘irrelevant.'” Of course some conservative Christians are upset that an atheist was elected to public office and one man, in an ironic twist the former president of the local NAACP, said he would file a lawsuit challenging Bothwell taking office.
It seems North Carolina has an article in their state constitution that prohibits atheists from being elected to public office.
Article 6, section 8 reads, “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”
Of course there is case law that made such religious tests unconstitutional but Bothwell and the city, if sued, would still have to fight the suit.
Herb Silverman, President of the Secular Coalition for America, had a similar battle in South Carolina in 1990. His post on the Newsweek Washington Post website explains:
I first heard about the South Carolina exclusion in 1990. I’m no constitutional scholar, but I knew that Article 6 of our U.S. Constitution explicitly states that there may be no religious tests for public office. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that this provision also applies to the states. So I assumed this was just an anachronism, and could easily be changed. I was wrong. I wound up to running for public office, first as a gubernatorial candidate and then as a notary public, in order to challenge this unconstitutional provision. It took eight years and a unanimous verdict of the South Carolina Supreme Court to state the obvious, that no religious test for public office may be applied, not even in South Carolina.
Our state wasted about $100,000 trying to keep me from becoming a notary public. None of the political leaders in South Carolina, and certainly not the lawyers advising them, believed they would prevail legally if I continued to pursue my case. Yet, those same politicians showed that they would rather waste time and money on a lost cause than risk the wrath and lose the votes of the state’s well-organized religious right. But South Carolina is known as a state that fights lost causes. Et tu, North Carolina?
Atheists in office: Déjà vu all over again
That’s how it goes. Priests who are convicted of molesting children are treated better than an atheist wanting to hold elective office.
It is seems to be atheists who are told to sit down and shut up when religious issues come up and we are the ones that have to fight for basic rights.