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.
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.