Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Could A Councilman Lose His Seat for Being An Atheist

In Asheville, North Carolina, there is a city councilman named Cecil Bothwell who received a lot of opposition from the right wing because he is an atheist. What makes this especially interesting is the fact that the right wing could have some legal points here because Article Six of the state constitution in North Carolina actually states that atheists cannot hold elected office. Of course, this also leads to some bigger questions as that state law is in direct contradiction to the US Constitution.

Since the US Constitution must be followed when their is a contradiction between local and federal law, it's very likely that Bothwell will be able to keep his seat on the council. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how far the right wing goes on the issue and if anything is done to resolve the contradiction between the state constitution and the US Constitution in regards to the issue.

Here's a segment that Rachel Maddow did on the story.


  1. There shouldn't be any contradiction -- via incorporation, the states are bound to the federal constitution in cases of dispute, and Art. 6, Sec. 3 says that no religious test will be required for any office. Hard to see how this wouldn't be a religious test.

  2. I agree, Ant. Nonetheless, the state constitution still does have the ban so I imagine some of his opponents will try to exploit the situation. I imagine Bothwell will ultimately come out on top, but there could be a long legal battle ahead.

  3. Interesting question of Federalism, but so far as I know, Article VI's provisions have never been subject to any incorporation case decided by the Supremes. And the actual text of the article is quite specific, applying only to "any Office or public Trust UNDER THE UNITEd STATES" (emphasis added). A fair argument can be made that this applies only to Federal offices.

  4. James -- I see that point, but then again, establishment and exercise are explicitly limited to CONGRESS (and not the states) until incorporation brings them down to the states as well. It'd seem a truly impossible argument to make that the first amendment is controlling on the states, but article VI is not, given the facial conflict between the two. Even Thomas' opinion in Newdow seems to suggest that NC doesn't have a good leg to stand on in this.