By William Skordelis:
December 15, 2009
Should an atheist be allowed to serve in public office? Some people in Asheville, North Carolina don’t believe that the councilman-elect, Cecil Bothwell, should be allowed to take his seat on the city council based entirely on the fact that he is an atheist.
Article 6, section 8 of North Carolina’s state Constitution says:
"The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."
Bothwell’s political opponents are talking about the possibility of a lawsuit against the City of Asheville and the Board of Elections, should Bothwell be sworn into office.
There is one little problem for said God-fearing opponents, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the court precedents that have established the U.S. Constitution’s authority to trump state and local laws when conflicts occur.
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The very first sentence of the very first amendment to our constitution, the top of the list of what became known as the “Bill of Rights,” not only allows people to establish whatever form of religion they want and to be protected from any governmental “prohibiting the free exercise therof,” it also prohibits government from establishing any official religion. By not being permitted to form an “official religion,” likewise the government cannot place any religious requirements on a government post.
But there’s more, pesky, federalist constitutional meddling that’s bad news for Bothwell’s opponents, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution which says:
"No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
There is nothing more fundamental than our right to free speech. And free speech is linked to the freedom of religion, for or against, because belief and practice of a religious doctrine are forms of personal expression which cannot be forced upon or denied by government. To challenge that fundamental right in court, based on the archaic wording of a state constitution, and how those words relate to the case of Councilman Cecil Bothwell would be frivolous. Just as government cannot deny a Jew, or a Muslim, or even a Catholic from serving office, we cannot deny the right of an atheist to serve elected office.
The more important question this case brings forward, is whether an atheist could ever and if elected, should ever be permitted to be President of the United States? Could such a thing occur? In the current state of politics where the entire conservative agenda is written by evangelicals, and they begat the Right-Wing media, and if any atheist candidate were to even remotely show signs of seriously competing for a nomination of a major party for the presidency, the Far Right would send out a swarm of locusts with leaflets and viral poison and pestilence to stamp out the evil pretender. It would be almost as impossible as electing an African-American.
Should an atheist like Cecil Bothwell be permitted to serve as president? The Bill of Rights says yes, and the king of laws always trumps the jokers who think otherwise.
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