Could Cecil Bothwell Become the Second Atheist Member of Congress?

It’s tough to get elected to Congress in general, much more so when you’re running as an independent.

But that’s what Cecil Bothwell decided to do in North Carolina. The Asheville City Council member wanted to take on “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrat Heath Shuler.

Cecil Bothwell

Bothwell, as you might recall, is an out atheist. That fact was used against him by his opponents when he ran for city council. They also said he couldn’t hold office if he didn’t believe in god. He still won.

Why do I bring all this up now?

1) Shuler recently decided not to run again for Congress. He’s looking for a job as a lobbyist. Classy.

2) That means Bothwell is now the de facto Democratic candidate and Glenn Greenwald at Salon thinks Bothwell has a strong chance of winning this race!

Among his many political positions, Bothwell supports ending the War on Drugs, providing full funding to Planned Parenthood, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, and vowing for equal rights for same-sex couples:

Bothwell has been a leader in advocating for the rights of same-sex couples, but an anti-gay-marriage referendum placed on the ballot in North Carolina, on the day the Democratic primary will be held, threatens to bring out many social conservatives who would vote against him. That, along with the fact that Bothwell refuses to “accept corporate or corporate PAC donations,” means his campaign needs as much support as possible. He can win, and I am confident that his record and positions speak for themselves and will lead many readers here to want to support him. You can do so here.

Bothwell needs help, though. He needs funding to fight back against the inevitable backlash. You can donate to his campaign here. If there was a way to get groups of atheists to support him from across the country — r/atheism, I’m looking at you — this could be the first election in which atheists make their voices count.

If Bothwell wins, he would join Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) as the only other openly non-theistic Member of Congress.

This is a big deal. The question is whether or not we can come through for him.

Bothwell spoke at last year’s American Humanist Association conference in Boston for the Secular Student Alliance’s “Leadership Track” for students. In the video below, he told the story of running for office and his future plans:

(Thanks to Luther for the link!)

***Update***: I neglected to mention Kyrsten Sinema, another non-theist, who is running for Congress in Arizona’s 9th district. Sinema is a state senator from Arizona (who stepped down to run for Congress) and — I mention these things only because people running for office aren’t always so forthright about them — an ex-Mormon and a bisexual. You can read about her political positions here.

Here she is in action on the floor of the AZ House:

Sinema is still vying to become the Democratic party’s candidate in the district.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ray

    I’m Canadian but have happily contributed  in the hope of increasing the level of reason in the US government. Good luck Cecil.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      Are you absolutely sure that’s legal? I can’t find a good reference just off the top of my head, but I’m moderately confident that foreign donations are banned.

      • http://www.twitter.com/a_okafor007 Anthony C. Okafor

        not since Citizens United they aren’t…..

  • Rieux

    It’s not entirely clear, because Greenwald’s statements are a little ambiguous, but in context I think Greenwald is saying that Bothwell has “a real chance to win” the Democratic primary for the Congressional seat. (Greenwald also states that Bothwell and the other two Congressional candidates Greenwald is endorsing “[e]ach faces a primary race.” So Bothwell isn’t “the de facto Democratic candidate” here.)

    All that said—go, Cecil, go!

  • http://www.SecularMainstream.US/ American Secular Mainstream

    We’ve posted this on our FB page. Any of you Tarheels out there want to become our NC state director and give Bothwell his first endorsement from a secular group? Learn more at http://www.SecularMainstream/learn

  • Zhuge

    I donated 25 bucks. I went to the reason rally and want to get involved. This seems to be a way to do it. 

  • http://elbruces.blogspot.com/ El Bruce

    He sounds like a great guy, but “he can win?”  As an independent atheist, running on a generally liberal platform with no funding in North Carolina, on the same ballot as a wingnut-baiting referendum?  C’mon, pull the other one.

  • Fitzgerald

    From a political perspective, I wouldn’t put to much money on either candidate winning. 2012 is probably going to be a hard year for Democrats, and there’s no way that their nontheistic views won’t hurt them with the voters.
    Bothwell doesn’t have a prayer. The 11th District has a PVI of R+6 (that is, it’s  moderately conservative district), and redistricting after the 2010 census has made it much more conservative. Honestly, Shuler would have struggled to hold on after the district was changed so much. Really, the fact that a freshman city council member has a strong shot at winning the nomination should tell you everything about the Democrats’ chances here. If this was a serious race, Bothwell wouldn’t have a chance in the primary. 

    As proof of what I’m talking about, look at Arizona. Sinema has a better shot in the general election, and correspondingly has a much tougher primary. If the current redistricting plan holds up, her district should be a toss-up. As a fairly high ranking state senator, she would have good name recognition and party support if she won the nomination, but so would the state house minority leader who she’s running against. There’s also the wildcard of the independent Peñalosa in the race, who’s run for both parties’ nomination in the past. I don’t know what he would do to the math of the election.

  • Borax

    Cecil is facing one very large problem.  I’m from Asheville NC which is a great Liberal bastion in conservative western North Carolina.  Most of Asheville was just gerrymandered into the ultra conservative 10th distict, making it almost impossible for a liberal canidate to take the 11th. I was looking forward to voting for Bothwell, but now I’m in the wrong district.

    • Onamission5

      Wait– what? How on earth did I miss this happening?

      Where can we go to find out if we’re still district 11?

  • Kaili

     I live in NC.  He’s got my vote.

  • Colin

    It’s nice to see rationality coming out of the Arizona state senate.  Wish I could vote for her!

    • Anonymous

       Krysten is my representative and I’ve met her several times, and she rules! She is often the sole voice of sanity in a legislature stuffed to the gills with stark raving lunatic christian dominionists who dance to the tune of lobbyists from the NRA and the mining industry. Everyone, please consider supporting her!

  • Thorny264

    Ok maybe I don’t understand one of his polictal positions because I’m english but why is ending the war on drugs a good thing?

    • Anonymous

       The war on drugs ended a long time ago. Drugs won. What’s been going on since then is a war on civil rights. Every day people have their homes, vehicles and other assets seized by the police with no shred of due process, people are regularly shot dead in SWAT raids on the wrong address, the police become more heavily militarized and wield more overwhelming heavy-caliber firepower against ordinary citizens all the time, all in the name of the bullshit “war on drugs”. There is massive corruption and corporate cronyism with every podunk police department getting showered with millions from “Heimat Security” to buy fancy high-tech military and espionage equipment, and in some places they get a cut of the assets they seize under “war on drug” laws – an obvious inducement to corruption and abuse of power. Do a google search for civic forfeiture and Donald Scott to see a chilling example of how the forces of “law and order” are out of control thanks to the “war on drugs”.

      • Thorny264

        Well it sounds like the system just needs starting over not ending the war on drugs which I think we can all agree are bad (Mr Mackey) and need to be crimialized

        • Anonymous

           Drug abuse is a health issue. Treating it as a military (let alone criminal) issue does much more harm than the drugs themselves.

        • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

          Er, no. We don’t  all agree that drugs need to be criminalised. What someone does with their own body, whether that’s extreme sports, getting pregnant, getting an abortion, eating junk food, or taking drugs, is their business.

          What makes you think that your understanding is so superior that you should impose it on others with the full coercive force of a state?

  • Zhuge

    This also helps put the openly nontheist candidates for Congress together for easy donating: https://secure.actblue.com/page/nontheist

  • Onamission5

    I am proud to have Bothwell as my city council member, and would be even more proud to have him as my congressman. I sincerely hope enough Ashevillians vote for him to counter the rest of the district’s likely vote.


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