In North Carolina, Lawsuit Is Threatened Over Councilman’s Lack of Belief in God
City Councilman Cecil Bothwell of Ashville believes in ending the death penalty, conserving water and reforming government, but he does not believe in God. His political opponents say that is a sin that makes him unworthy of office, and they have the North Carolina Constitution on their side.
Detractors of Mr. Bothwell, who was elected in November, are threatening to take the city to court for swearing him in last week, even though the state’s antiquated requirement that officeholders believe in God is unenforceable because it violates the United States Constitution.
“The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me,” said Mr. Bothwell, 59, “and it’s certainly not relevant to public office.”
As the story notes, the law is unenforceable, due to the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. But the lawsuit could lead to a protracted legal battle and all the fees involved. This would be a de facto penalty against Bothwell, simply because of an arcane, backward, and thoroughly un-American requirement.
It makes no difference if this suit is politically motivated or not. It's shameful, no disgusting, that a public figure is being legally threatened for being an atheist. It's worse that the North Carolina Constitution is on the side of thugs making the threats.
Mr. Bothwell cannot be forced out of office over his atheist views because the North Carolina provision is unenforceable, according to the supremacy clause of the Constitution. Six other states have similar provisions barring atheist officeholders.
In 1961, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that federal law prohibits states from requiring any kind of religious test for officeholders when it ruled in favor of a Maryland atheist seeking to be a notary public.
But the federal protections do not necessarily spare atheist public officials from spending years defending themselves in court. An avowed atheist, Herb Silverman, won an eight-year court battle in 1997 when South Carolina’s highest court granted him the right to be appointed a notary despite the state’s law.
Mr. Bothwell said a legal challenge to his appointment would be “fun,” but he believes that his opponents’ efforts have more to do with politics than religion.
“It’s local political opponents seeking to change the outcome of an election they lost,” he said.