The Rachel Maddow show reported this week about a man named Cecil Bothwell who was just sworn in this week as a city councilman for Asheville, North Carolina. Too bad for Mr. Bothwell that he is an atheist, and, as such, many conservative groups are attempting oust him from office due to a little line in the Tennessee Constitution that reads like this: (from Article 6, Section 8)
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
Yep, the very first disqualification for holding office in North Carolina is a disbelief in God. And, when Mr. Bothwell was sworn in, he did not end his statement by saying "so help me God;" he said, "that is my solid affirmation," which is a perfectly, technically correct method of affirming his statement since he is an atheist. This really riled the groups up even more. Now, they're trying to keep this newly elected official - that citizens actually voted for - from keeping his office.
Arcane, right? Especially for being in 2009. Well, it's apparently a sentiment that is still shared by several other states. Seven states, in fact. If you're an atheist, the state constitutions of Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Maryland (MARYLAND?!), as well as North Carolina all agree that you are unfit to hold public office of any kind. Here's the tricky part: it is illegal for states to do this. Why, you ask? Because of a little thing called supremacy. Whenever a difference of law comes up between a state's constitution and the United States Constitution, the US Constitution trumps all. And in the US Constitution is a little phrase that goes something like this:
No religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any office or public Trust under the United States.
In the grand scheme, will this become an issue requiring Mr. Bothwell to fear for his job? No. Will he receive more attention than he wanted about his religious preference now that this is out? Most definitely. Why is this important, then? Well, it goes back to the fact that many states have laws on the books that are indeed quite archaic, but we're unwilling to remove them. Or, we've forgotten about them until someone wants to test the laws. In this day and age, we should be looking at someone's qualifications for the job rather than what church they're so proud to attend, it takes up space on their official Mayoral webpage.
Love and Lyte,