Detractors of [recently elected city councilman Cecil] Bothwellâ¦ are threatening to take the city to court for swearing him in last week, even though the stateâs antiquated requirement that officeholders believe in God is unenforceable because it violates the United States Constitution.
âThe question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me,â said Mr. Bothwell, 59, âand itâs certainly not relevant to public office.â
Raised a Presbyterian, Mr. Bothwell began questioning Christian beliefs at a young age, he said, and considered himself an atheist by the time he was 20. However, He is an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and celebrates Christmas.
â¦a little-noticed quirk in North Carolinaâs Constitution â¦ disqualifies officeholders âwho shall deny the being of Almighty God.â The provision was included when the document was drafted in 1868 and was not revised when North Carolina amended its Constitution in 1971.
One opponent, H. K. Edgerton, is threatening to file suit against the city to challenge Mr. Bothwellâs swearing in. âMy father was a Baptist minister,â Mr. Edgerton said. âIâm a Christian man. I have problems with people who donât believe in God.â Mr. Edgerton is a local civil rights leader and founder of Southern Heritage 411, an organization that promotes the interests of black Southerners.
In 1961, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that federal law prohibits states from requiring any kind of religious test for officeholders when it ruled in favor of a Maryland atheist seeking to be a notary public.
The same constitution that guarantees Mr. Edgerton’s hard-won right to vote also ensures that anyone can serve in office, regardless of religious belief. That Mr. Edgerton has a problem with Mr. Bothwell’s beliefs or lack thereof doesn’t outweigh the fact that a majority of the voters in Asheville preferred his platform and his record of service to the community.