Atheist Politician Threatened With Lawsuit

Ashville, NC City Councilman Cecil Bothwell is an atheist. That bothers some other people, like bigot H.K. Edgerton:

“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.

Indeed, he has such a problem with it Edgerton is threatening to file a lawsuit, claiming Bothwell isn’t qualified to hold office because of his atheism, citing the unconstitutional North Carolina Constitution that “disqualifies officeholders ‘who shall deny the being of Almighty God.’”

Bothwell’s response: “The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me, and it’s certainly not relevant to public office.”

There was a time when people like Edgerton were denied office because of the color of their skin. Edgerton is fighting for the same bigotry — denying office to someone because of their religion, or lack there of. It’s shameful.

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  • Custador

    I would have thought that not viewing reality through a filter made one far more suitable for office, personally.

    • Jackie Chan

      I have to disagree – I think that wearing aviator sunglasses makes anyone more suitable for office :)

    • Erik


    • wazza

      Atheists still have filters, man. And if you think they don’t, that must be one of your filters.


  • brgulker

    Bothwell’s response: “The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me, and it’s certainly not relevant to public office.”

    Hmmm…. Going to file that one away in the memory banks.

    • Olaf

      He does not specify WHICH god!
      Zeus, The flying spaghetti monster,…

  • vorjack

    Just for the record, Asheville is a seriously weird town. To give you some idea, here’s a section from the Asheville Citizen-Times on this story:

    “If they go ahead, then the city of Asheville and the board of elections could be liable for a lawsuit,” said Edgerton, who is known for promoting “Southern heritage” by standing on streets decked out in a Confederate soldier’s uniform and holding a Confederate flag.

    Remember, this is the former head of the local NAACP.

    • Metro

      Maybe he just does that to piss off the Klan?

    • CoffeeJedi

      As the bumper sticker goes:
      “Keep Asheville Weird”

      • LRA

        As an Austinite, I must correct you… It’s Keep Austin Weird :P

        • rA

          I am pretty sure Keep ______ Weird is not a Texas original (though Keep Austin Weird appears not to be a marketing slogan, as many are, for T-shirts/stickers).

          • Gringa

            There is actually a magazine that is called Weird NJ. They’ve now expanded it to other cities.

    • Yoav

      Is he the inspiration to Dave Chappell’s black clanman character?

      • Joe B

        I think it’s suppose to be in honor of the blacks that fought for the confederacy. Why they were doing that I don’t really know.

      • Janet Greene

        Good question :) Just saw that episode this weekend!

  • Thegoodman

    Well done pointing out the civil rights movement Daniel, I was thinking the same thing.

    It is disgraceful that a person who is obviously familiar with prejudice can speak with such open prejudice against 16.1% (Religion: 12.1% unaffiliated, 4% none) of our nation.

    12.8% of our nation is African-American by the way.

  • Meee

    They’re right, though. He shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the council; he’s an atheist and the law very specifically forbids an atheist from being in that position.

    Whether or not it’s fair that he should be kicked out is irrelevant. It’s the law. The issue here should be around the law itself and getting rid of it, not deciding whether the law should be enforced or not. You can’t arbitarily decide whether a law is applied or not, it should either exist or it shouldn’t. The law does exist, and it shouldn’t. That’s the issue (or should be).

    Hell a lawsuit could be a good thing. It sounds like the law is pretty unconstitutional (but I’ve never been good at that stuff) so maybe a lawsuit would get thrown out *and* get rid of the law at the same time.

    • Custador

      Except it’s not; the state constitution is over-ruled by the national constitution as I understand it.

      • Meee

        Well then it’s a complete non-issue and, once again, going to court would be a good thing since the prosecution’s case would be decimated almost instantly.

        • Custador

          Pretty much!

        • Kodie

          Yes, they should use this opportunity to set precedent.

          • Laura

            There’s not a precedent to set: it’s already been done. This is a DEAD law. Just Google “wacky old laws still on the books” or something similar, and you will see how many there are. They don’t get struck because it would take a MASSIVE amount of time; laws get changed ALL the time. It’s what congress does.

            What I find surprising is that suddenly, people believe Fox News that this is a big deal!

            • Ty

              Yep. The homeowners covenant in my neighborhood, written in the 40′s, specifically states that people of ‘negro or asian’ race are not allowed to live in the neighborhood, except as domestic servants.

    • Kodie

      Nobody is arbitrarily deciding that this law shouldn’t exist. It is over-ridden by the supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, which precludes this law from being enforced. A judge in any supposed case is required to abide the U.S. Constitution over state law.

      • Gringa

        Then why were they allowed to write that law in the first place? I always find it strange with state laws contradict federal laws. They should all align so as to be more transparent on what is legal and what is not.

        • Kodie

          A little deep water for me, but perhaps it was written by people who were unfit for office as they failed to read and/or comprehend the U.S. Constitution, or a little high on States’ rights.

          Amendment X
          “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

      • Laura

        It was on the state books before the Supreme Court case struck it down in 1961 (Torcaso vs. Watkins).

    • Elliott

      Rosa Parks.

      • Meee

        Yup. And she got arrested for it, which is what kicked off the whole thing. If the driver had just shrugged and said “okay, stay there” who knows what might’ve happened. Hell, the civil rights movement could’ve been knocked back for a while, lacking one of the incidents that caused it to move into higher gear.

        Like I said in the first post, this “no atheists” law just doesn’t fly. I said that if it came to court, it’d be thrown out and the law gotten rid of, and serve as a high (ish) profile thing about atheist discrimination (and no I’m not saying it’s ever been as bad as black or gay discrimination, but it does exist). And from the other replies here, it looks like the case is even stronger than I thought in the first place. The people bringing the charges should get decimated in court.

        • Gringa

          I agree – discrimination in any case is wrong, and a high-profile court case would likely bring that to light for more people.

    • Olaf

      With an atheist in politics, you are unable to start a holy war like Bush did.
      In this regard, an atheist in politics is a disadvantage, they only want peace.

      • Kodie

        I notice that the Constitution doesn’t say all faiths or non-faiths are welcome to public office – it just says no religious test:

        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 trying to figure out what would potentially make an atheist “unfit” for office, other than the irrational belief in god and that morals are determined by god (so an atheist wouldn’t have any), or that an affirmation just isn’t strong enough without that “or may god strike me dead” implication.

        I can think of a lot of reasons a religious person may not be fit for office, glaringly, believing that we are in end times that form their decisions, or even that god blesses America especially, much less Reagan’s usage of astrology, or creation beliefs that interfere with what is being taught in school, etc.

        I can sort of get along with someone whose moral beliefs are set by the bible – within reason. The best way to govern may be a point of disagreement between me and them and that’s just their personal opinion, but when it all comes down to god deep down inside, their decisions may be more half-baked nonsense than I thought. Because I think most Christians (the majority, and for the basis of the argument that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles) are not wholly irrational, I take it on a case-by-case basis. Because we’re a democracy, a lot of loony religious folks get into office because it’s not widely accepted that they are mentally ill and are voted in by a majority or plurality vote, by people who are likewise mush in the brains, so to speak.

        I would hope that an atheist is not counted on to be a bad fit for office on the basis of myths and rumors, so I would also not be in such a hurry to turn the tables on all who believe in god. Just the really crazy ones. It’s not a “religious” test if it weeds out the people who believe the sky is purple, pray on it, and conclude we must make war with Peru, and give equal time to teach children that we are really a bubble in god’s bathtub.

  • James

    I for one look forward to the legal battle – it could end with the NC Constitution being struck down as unconstitutional. This will not please the American Taliban, I mean secessionists, I mean conservatives.

  • Siamang

    I wrote the following on Friendly Atheist. Reposting.

    I think we’re going about this in ENTIRELY the wrong way.

    Here’s what this needs: A high-profile, dedicated, state-by-state drive to get these bans stricken from the books.

    YES, they are made moot by Federal Supreme Court precedent. Yes, this would get 5 minutes before a judge declared summary judgment. Yes, it’s a slam dunk for our side.

    That’s not the point. The point is, we need a national dialog on exactly where atheists have come and what we’ve had to deal with, and are still dealing with. That’s what this moment is about. That’s what’s being handed to us on a silver platter. A “good fight” for all those angry ‘new atheists’ that only bigots could object to.

    We need to have a “repeal the atheist bans” state-by-state campaign in the legislatures of each of these offending states. To remove a law that should have been stricken from the books years ago, yet still is an occasion to (as we can see here) rabble-rouse against a fairly elected citizen.

    I GUARAN-DAMN-TEE you that if one of these states had a law still in the constitution about how blacks can’t vote, the NAACP wouldn’t let it slide because it was unenforcable. They (and I) would rightly declare it a blot and a continuing offense, and demand it be removed.

    We should do the same. This issue in North Carolina is a wake-up call. Now is the moment to bring up that these states still have on their books these horrid remnants of cold-war anti-atheist bigotry, and THEY NEED TO GO.

    If ANY of these laws said “a Jew can’t hold office”, (which some did, at one time), they would be a shame and an embarrassment and an ongoing offense.

    This is a “whites only” sign above a drinking fountain, with a guy standing next to it saying “hey, no big deal, we never enforce it.”

    We need to treat these laws like a “whites only” sign. Rip them down and spit on them.

    • Fentwin

      “I GUARAN-DAMN-TEE you that if one of these states had a law still in the constitution about how blacks can’t vote, the NAACP wouldn’t let it slide because it was unenforcable. They (and I) would rightly declare it a blot and a continuing offense, and demand it be removed.”

      This comes close eh……


  • Larian LeQuella

    This even made the Rachell Maddow Show. Sadly, the ACLU lady Rachell invited on was not particularly articulate. :(

  • Laura

    I hope his lawyer tells him that it won’t happen. The case will get tossed without even being heard. What people don’t understand is that just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean it’s enforceable. It’s not. There are TONS of laws still on the books that don’t get enforced because other, newer laws have made them null and void. This is one of them. Cecil won’t lose his seat, H.K. won’t get anywhere with a lawsuit, people realize there are more important things in the world, and all will be good again!

    • Custador

      The UK actually has it in statute that if a law falls out of use for a long time, it becomes obsolete and can no longer be enforced. The classic one that springs to mind is that it used to be legal to shoot a Welsh man in Shrewsbury town square with a longbow at midnight – obviously not legal anymore, but didn’t actually need the government to strike it from the books!

      • Siberia

        The UK actually has it in statute that if a law falls out of use for a long time, it becomes obsolete and can no longer be enforced.

        Wise monkeys.
        I want to move to the UK :(

      • Daniel Florien

        Is there an exact time limit? One could setup a database of all the laws & the day after they expire, do exactly what the law said and then plead it’s not enforceable!

        • Janet Greene

          I heard that one of the states still has a law, never overturned, banning peanut butter from sticking to the roof of your mouth. Not sure about the penalty, but then I’m not American so I don’t have to worry excessively about it….but Americans, you better do some research before your next snack because no other country loves to imprison its people like you do! And there could be another legal-literalist like Edgarton ready to enforce the law – imagine being in the clink and your mouth is too full of peanut butter to communicate with your attorney…chaos would ensue….

      • Kodie

        I think a law can still be sensible even if it hasn’t had to be enforced for a long time. Just because some old laws seem silly today, it’s easy to find counter-examples. Let’s pretend (for demonstration purposes) the law to ban atheists from office is a good one, but no atheist has run for office or been appointed for the law to be confronted whether it is good or bad. I don’t naturally conclude an old law is necessarily an obsolete law. I don’t know why they’re not reviewed beforehand for occasional deletion for obsolescence, it’s probably because it’s time-consuming to review and meet over and decide if it should stay or go – not how most people want their taxes spent. I think disregarding many old laws (how old?) is probably safe, but not necessarily logical.

        Like, when they say “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” I mean, I haven’t read the whole thing, but if it’s not deleted, I have some reason to worry that something I do could be in violation, were I to ignore something on the basis of it being obviously silly – I think some current laws are silly. I don’t feel it’s up to me to hazard to break some of them. I probably break what would be considered obsolete laws that are still on the books mostly because I’m unaware of them, but this one willfully, since Daniel posted about it several months ago.

        • wazza

          well, see, if the law is useful or serves some purpose, it’ll be enforced. The laws only go obsolete if they’re not having any effect either way.

        • goddamnathiest

          That “State” law violates “Federal” law. Also the Supreme Court ruled back in the early 1960′s that such a thing could not be enforced. So that man has nothing to fear. The guy filing the suit will for it is FRIVOLOUS.

          • Janet Greene

            Any law that violates the constitution is void.

  • goddamnathiest

    Well all of this was settled in a US Supreme Court back around 1961. You don’t have to have a “religion” or follow a religion or believe in “God” to hold office.
    Now there are about 7 states in the US that have these laws on their books.
    The filing of such a lawsuit, is well “Frivolous.” You see, a State Law cannot SUPERSEDE a FEDERAL LAW. And a STATES constitution cannot go against the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.
    Here in Texas around 1998 the State passed a law where you COULD SUE AN HMO. Little Georgie Bush signed it into law. In fact during the 2000 Presidential debates Little Georgie stated that he was the first governor to sign into law (A STATE LAW) that allowed a person to sue an HMO.
    What Little Georige didn’t tell everyone is that that law was only on the books for three months. Then it got thrown out. Why? Because it was in violation of the FEDERAL LAW that says you cannot sue an HMO.
    So Mr. NAACP can bring suit all he wants. It won’t matter. It’ll get thrown out of court. I doubt that he can find an attorney who’ll file it because they’ll get slammed.

  • Mark

    My dad was a Baptist preacher too. And all four of his children are atheists.

    • Gringa

      How does Christmas go at your house?

  • nomad

    I know the conservatism of black politicians is a surprise to some. It does seem ironic, given the history of the Civil Rights struggle. It is ironic, and its difficult to explain. To put it simply, Civil Rights only benefited a certain segment of the black population. These people tend to be conservative. Hence the Steeles, Clarence Thomases and Obamas.

    • Gringa

      How do you propose that it did not benefit the people not in that “certain segment” of the black population?

      • nomad

        The answer to that is hiding in plain sight.

  • AngryAtheist

    Wasn’t H.K. Edgerton the crazy confederate guy on Penn and Tellers Bullshit episode about reparations?

  • cecil bothwell

    H.K. is an interesting character. He apparently believes that slavery was a benign institution and that slaves were happy. He insists that U.S. sovereignty over the states is not legal and stands for states rights, is apparently a member of the Sons of the Confederacy and often appears on overpasses above the Interstate or in our town center holding a Confederate flag.

    On the other hand, his Web site states his fees for appearances, and it may be that he is simply doing a job.

    The right-wing Republicans who first raised the charge that I was an atheist during the campaign seem to be more interested in winning the election by other means than in Edgerton’s particular views.

    • Custador

      Um…. Assuming that you really are Cecil Bothwell, hello and welcome! I hope Daniel doesn’t mind me being the first to say that, since this is his place.

      I must say, you’re much calmer about HK than I would be in your place.

    • Janet Greene