North Carolina fundamentalists are on the offensive to oust atheist councilman

North Carolina fundamentalists are on the offensive to oust atheist councilman December 15, 2009

AN antiquated rule in North Carolina’s constitution that disqualifies people “who shall deny the being of Almighty God” from holding political office has been dredged up against Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell by Christian fundies.
They are threatening to take the city to court for swearing in the 59-year-old atheist this week, even though the state’s requirement that officeholders should believe in God is unenforceable because it violates the US Constitution.

Atheist councilman Cecil Bothwell
Atheist councilman Cecil Bothwell
According to this report, Bothwell believes in ending the death penalty, conserving water and reforming government – but he doesn’t believe in God. His political opponents say that’s a sin that makes him unworthy of serving in office.
Said the recently-elected councillor:

The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me and it’s certainly not relevant to public office.

Bothwell ran this fall on a platform that also included limiting the height of downtown buildings and saving trees in the city’s core, views that appealed to voters in the liberal-leaning community at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. When Bothwell was sworn into office on Monday, he used an alternative oath that doesn’t require officials to swear on a Bible or reference “Almighty God.”
That infuriated conservative activists, who cited the “no disbelievers” provision in NC’s constitution. The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and wasn’t revised when North Carolina amended its constitution in 1971. One opponent, H K Edgerton, is threatening to file a lawsuit in state court against the city to challenge Bothwell’s appointment. He said:

My father was a Baptist minister. I’m a Christian man. I have problems with people who don’t believe in God.

Even if he can’t force Bothwell out of office, Edgerton said he hopes a legal battle would ultimately force North Carolina’s Legislature to determine the legality of the article of the Constitution.

If the law is wrong, it is the obligation of the Legislature to say it’s wrong.

The head of a conservative weekly newspaper says city officials shirked their duty to uphold the state’s laws by swearing in Bothwell. David Morgan, editor of the Asheville Tribune, said he’s tired of seeing his state Constitution “trashed.”
But Bothwell can’t be forced out of office over his atheist views because the North Carolina provision is unenforceable, according to the supremacy clause of the US Constitution. Six other states, Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, have similar provisions barring atheist officeholders.
Bothwell said a legal challenge to his appointment would be “fun,” but believes his opponents’ efforts have more to do with politics than religious beliefs.
Said Bothwell, who’s lived in Asheville nearly three decades and wrote the city’s best-selling guide book:

It’s local political opponents seeking to change the outcome of an election they lost.

The fundies may also be miffed by the fact that Bothwell did a hatchet job on one of their most iconic figures: he wrote a book entitled The Prince of War, Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire.

Bothwell was raised a Presbyterian but began questioning Christian beliefs at a young age and considered himself an atheist by the time he was 20. He’s an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and he still celebrates Christmas, often hanging ornaments on his Fishhook cactus.
There is a poll currently running on Foxnews, asking:

Should atheist councilman step aside?

This morning the “NO” vote stood at 71 percent.
Hat tip: Sister Talitha

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