Atheist? Don’t Run for Office in North Carolina!!

Did you know that North Carolina’s constitution bars "politicians who deny the existence of God" from holding office???

I didn’t.  Until today.  I am one of those holdouts who thought they really meant it when they said "separation of church and state."  I thought that actually mean separate.  As in not together.

But you learn something new every day, as the saying goes, even when you don’t want to!

And today I learned from an article in the Citizen-Times that, yep, North Carolina’s constitution says if you are an atheist you can’t take public office. 

The paper reports that opponents
of Cecil Bothwell, a writer and builder elected by the people last month to the City Council in Asheville are "seizing on [state constitutional] law to argue he should not be
seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have
ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S.

Has North Carolina seceded?

And a former president of the Nasheville NAACP is supporting this argument.

not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he’s an
atheist, he’s not eligible to serve in public office, according to the
state constitution,” said H.K. Edgerton, a former Asheville NAACP

Article 6, section 8 of the North Carolina state constitution

“The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First,
any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

But legal experts object:

enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state
constitution, said Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute
for Constitutional Law.

“I think there’s any number of
federal cases that would view this as an imposition of a religious
qualification and violate separation of church and state,” said Orr, a
former state Supreme Court justice.

In 1961, for example, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled Maryland’s requirement for officials to declare
belief in God violated the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First

Additionally, the news story points out that Article VI of the U.S.
Constitution says: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a
Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Yeah….but you know how it is.  Conservatives believe in the rule of law until they don’t like the rule of that law.

And there may be a little payback goin’ on.

mailed before the election criticized Bothwell over his atheism and his
book, “The Prince of War,” which denounces evangelist and Montreat
resident the Rev. Billy Graham for pushing what Bothwell says is a
theocratic agenda.

But seems like the people have spoken.  Bothwell’s campaign treasurer, Jake Quinn, said everyone should be entitled to their own beliefs.

“The test occurred on (Nov. 3),” Quinn said. “It was called an election.”

Let’s see where this one ends up.

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  • phylosopher

    I think this may actually be good – it would refresh the memories of the precedents and put the supreme court in the position of denying precedent or restating firmly that there can be no religious test. PERFECT!

  • prochoiceferret

    We live in a modern, secular, constitutional democracy! Didn’t you get the memo?

  • walt

    Relevent part of Article VI of the US Constitution:


    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. North Carolina already tried to secede one – it didn’t work, although it cost us a lot.