Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Defending NC from the Godless

The state constitutions of Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas specifically forbid atheists from holding public office. This is direct a contradiction of Article VI of the US Constitution, "[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." These clauses in the state constitutions are relics of the past. A close reading of the fifty state constitutions turns up a lot of these unconstitutional leftovers. As a rule, the unconstitutional elements are never enforced and allowed to remain for the simple reason that amending the constitutions to remove these clauses would create more fuss than it's worth. At least that's the theory.

The problem with these relic laws is that, by remaining on the books and in the constitutions, they are available to be misused by the unscrupulous. By combing through the laws, police or prosecutors can usually find some law to detain someone if they really want to detain them. I'm a big fan of inserting sunset clauses (expiration dates) to prevent this kind of abuse. Events in North Carolina this week should make state legislators all across the country take a close look at the constitutions and laws of their states to see they need to take preventative action.
North Carolina's constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office.

Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that 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. Constitution.

Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month.

"I'm 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 president.


Edgerton said City Council should hold off swearing Bothwell into office until a constitutional question can be resolved.

"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.

Bothwell says, "Could make for a very interesting court case, seems to me." Yep. Seems that way to me, too. It could also make for an expensive court case.

Update: Bora just let me know that Bothwell was seated this evening. The other members swore on their holy books (two Bibles and a Torah). Bothwell affirmed. This doesn't mean someone can't crawl out of the woodwork and challenge his legitimacy, but it's a good sign that none of his city council peers made a challenge.

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