North Carolina anti-atheist constitution . . .

William Scott Scherk's picture
Submitted by William Scott Scherk on Tue, 2009-12-15 05:47

Strange story on the recently-elected councilor in Ashville, North Carolina. He's been just sworn in via a non-gawdish oath, but a local 'conservative' group has threatened to sue the city. They say since he is an atheist, and the NC constitution forbids atheists to hold public office, the city has wronged.

Odd, but not a big deal, one might think, since the US Constitution overrides that of NC, and since the statute is therefore not enforced.

Yet as a CBS News story details, there have been a few serious impediments to office-holders in the past, and the courts certainly might entertain the threatened suit, it seems:

In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that federal law prohibits states from requiring any kind of religious test to serve in office when it ruled in favor of a Maryland atheist seeking appointment as a notary public.

But the federal protections don't necessarily spare atheist public officials from spending years defending themselves in court. Avowed atheist Herb Silverman won an eight-year court battle in 1997 when South Carolina's highest court granted him the right to be appointed as a notary despite the state's law.

Bothwell said a legal challenge to his appointment would be "fun," but believes his opponents' efforts have more to do with politics than religious beliefs.

PZ Meyers, at the blog Pharyngula, using the power of its readership to change the outcome of online polling, helped turn around this Fox News poll:

Should Atheist Councilman Step Aside?

Yes. The law may be inappropriate, but if it's in their constitution, it IS law. Step aside, councilman. 64%

Maybe. I can't say that religion - or lack of it - should deter fitness for public office because it opens the door to all sorts of beliefs. 4%

No. Look at the calendar - it's 2009! Religion - or lack of it - should never be a factor in qualifying someone for public office. 31%

I'm not sure. 1%

The CBS story also mentions one avowed atheist in the US Congress, quite a rarity, apparently.

Question for electors in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and other non-US polities: do atheists have a chance to get elected in those places? Is the US an outlier in its avowed gawdliness? Up here in the Socialist Hellhole of Canuckistan, the religion card is almost never played by anybody, let alone made an issue as in North Carolina.


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Politics basically plays no

Callum McPetrie's picture

Politics basically plays no role in NZ politics, so an atheist can be elected.

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