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Asheville Bigots: Christians Seek to Bar Atheist from City Council Seat

By December 11, 2009

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The Supreme Court invalided laws and constitutional provisions baring atheists from public office all the way back in 1961 (Torcaso v Watkins). Any individual laws had to be stricken from the books, but constitutional provisions remained -- technically unenforceable, but a lingering reminder past anti-atheist bigotry as well as a comfort to current bigots who want to believe that they, as theists, are so special that only they deserve to hold public office.

Some of these bigots living in Asheville, North Carolina, have gotten the idea that they can and should try to use just such an unenforceable provision of their state's constitution to keep Cecil Bothwell from serving on the city council. Among these is a former president of the Asheville NAACP -- that's right, a past civil rights leader is supporting attempts to deny equal civil rights to atheists.

"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.

Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: "The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God." ...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.

Source: Citizen-Times

H.K. Edgerton's knowledge of constitutional law is absolutely abysmal if he imagines that a provision in a state constitution can trump what appears in the federal constitution or in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. To be frank, though, I doubt he has given much of any thought to what the law and legal precedents actually say. I suspect very strongly that his personal objection to atheists is so strong that he's willing to latch onto anything that looks like it can be used as a weapon against them, no matter how flimsy.

What's more, he's surely not alone in this. Christian bigots attacks Cecil Bothwell over his atheism during the campaign as well:

Flyers mailed before the election criticized Bothwell over his atheism and his book, "The Prince of War," which denounces evangelist and Montreat resident the Rev. Billy Graham for pushing what Bothwell says is a theocratic agenda.

It's great that Cecil Bothwell was able to win despite the efforts by bigots to launch a smear campaign against him and it's a testimony to the residents of Ashevill that enough of them were willing to look beyond prejudice and cast their votes based on the merits of the candidates. Nevertheless, it shouldn't be assumed that there is no danger to Bothwell or his holding office -- bigots are never, in my experience, deterred by little things like laws. They are, almost by definition, immune from reason, logic, or evidence, and this allows them to persist in their prejudice and attacks almost indefinitely. We haven't heard the last of this story.

December 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm
(1) deegee says:

When southerners wonder why we so-called “liberal elites” in the Blue areas of the Northeast and West coast make fun of them so much for their stupidity, we can easily point to stupid stuff like this as Exhibit A in our reasons.

And when Asheville gets sued and loses, they will blame the atheists for the expenses they incurred in fighting the lawsuit (and for all the bad publicity). And Bothwell will still be in office.

On a much smaller but closer-to-home scale, this reminds of what I feared a little bit could happen when I was on jury duty 2 years ago and had been asked to take an oath which included “god” in it. [I never got selected for a case and was dismissed after one day.]

December 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm
(2) Ned B. says:

I wonder if Edgerton (former local NAACP leader) would like to see other laws enforced, even though they were declared unconstitutional about the time the Supreme Court struck down religious tests for state and local government offices. I seem to recall that, also in the early sixties, the court struck down laws against interacial marriage. I know that most southern states, including my old home state of Virginia, had such laws. I suspect that North Carolina still has similar laws on the books.

December 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm
(3) Joseph says:

Just like the birthers, these idiots are being sore losers and are trying to use loopholes to circumvent Democracy. If they were really so interested in preserving the state constitution, they would have brought this up before the election. They obviously overestimated the bigotry of North Carolina voters (totally understandable) so they’re now using tactics they know are illegal, but they just don’t care.

December 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm
(4) mobathome says:

(1) deegee says:

On a much smaller but closer-to-home scale, this reminds of what I feared a little bit could happen when I was on jury duty 2 years ago and had been asked to take an oath which included “god” in it. [I never got selected for a case and was dismissed after one day.]

Many states allow a person to affirm rather than swear an oath including god. I suggest you look into it for your state. It works in mine.

December 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm
(5) deegee says:

I can’t be selected for jury duty for at least another 7 years, and it had been 11 years since the previous time. At that time, we did have to take a quick oath but I don’t remember if it included god in it. I am in New York, a state not known for its overabundance of religion intertwined with the public the way southern states are. (It got rid of public school prayer in the 1960s, for example.)

December 13, 2009 at 5:37 am
(6) steve says:

I found a local blog that has some more information the url is http://ashvegas.squarespace.com/journal/2009/10/20/asheville-city-council-candidate-cecil-bothwell-attack-and-r.html
Apparently Bothwell is some type of reporter who helped find information that led a local sheriff by the name of Bobby Lee Medford to be convicted last year on charges of bribery, extortion, money laundering, illegal gambling, etc. and end up with a 15 year prison sentence. It was apparently political allies of the sheriff that brought up the atheism issue during the campaign in order to try and stop him from being elected during what appears to have been a very dirty political campaign.
I haven’t seen anything that links Edgerton with Medford, but I’m not from the area, so I can’t be totally sure about that. I guess he justs hates Bothwell (or atheists) so much that he can’t stand the idea of democratic elections if the people don’t go his way.
In a creepy side note, I wanted to find out more about Edgerton and checked out his website at http://www.southernheritage411.com/truehistory.shtml
Basically I’m shocked that this guy was ever in or associated with the NAACP. He is obsessed with the phantom notion of black confederate soldiers. He has a link to a website that states that the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot was caused by black men raping white women. He claims that the Underground Railroad did not exist and that slavery in the south was better than life in the north. It even includes transcripts of fawning interviews with Nathan Bedford Forrest of KKK fame.
I felt sick after reading his website and I can understand why he doesn’t seem to care about civil rights or notions of constitutional government at all and why he would try to deny a lawfully elected official from taking office. I think he’s the type to try it with others but the unconstitional religious test clause in the state constition gave him the opportunity. It gives one pause about leaving unenforced/outdated laws on the books.
(Article 6 of the U.S. constituion barred religious tests for all federal and state public offices before the 14th amendment incorporated the bill of rights to the states, so it was never constitutional)

December 19, 2009 at 11:37 am
(7) John Hanks says:

Fundanazis are what they are. What worries me is the atheists who just go along.

December 19, 2009 at 2:04 pm
(8) Zack says:

When southerners wonder why we so-called “liberal elites” in the Blue areas of the Northeast and West coast make fun of them so much for their stupidity, we can easily point to stupid stuff like this as Exhibit A in our reasons. — deegee on December 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Odd that you failed to notice that Bothwell, the hero of the story, is a southerner.

Stupidity is a condition of humanity, not of geography.

December 23, 2009 at 8:15 am
(9) Eupraxsophy says:

It seems to me that H.K.Edgerton is a disgrace to the fundamental ideas of our founding fathers, the seperation of church and state, as well as his own race. He would appear to me as someone who has no real moral values or integrity. He is in my opinion a FOOL.

Seeing that the North Carolina’s constitutional law is itself unconstitutional and has no real foundation, it has no integrity. They would have to first establish what “Almighty God” they are refering to, and then establish this Almighty God’s existence for it to be written into law in the first place. Otherwise it is just pure speculation.
And what laws and constitutions from our founding fathers are based on speculation? Any law or constitution should first be established on truth
and not on speculation.

If H.K.Edgerton wants to live in a country that is ruled by religion, then perhaps he could move to Iran.

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