Cecil Bothwell affirming his oath of office, Dec. 8. Photo by Jason Sandford, all rights reserved
Our argumentative online culture, religious conflict and Asheville have all collided nicely this week. From my Mountain Xpress write-up of the "controversy" over new Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell:
It seems the only place people aren’t shouting about this week’s swearing in of new Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell is Asheville. Blogs, including that of the Washington Post, have lit up about the “controversy” over Bothwell, a “post-theist” who earlier identified as an atheist, taking his seat.
The controversy began with Asheville Citizen-Times stories on Monday and Tuesday. The latter was titled, “Critics of Cecil Bothwell Cite N.C. Bar to Atheists.” It quoted only one opponent, H.K. Edgerton, a former president of the Asheville NAACP best known locally for walking around town brandishing a Confederate flag, as saying that the state constitution would keep Bothwell, a builder, author and former Xpress writer and editor, from holding office.
While article 6, section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution does deny office to “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God,” such state bans have been routinely trumped by Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly prohibits any religious tests for public office. A similar ban in Maryland was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1961.
Since the articles came out, the proverbial Internet flood gates have opened, with national blogs from across the political spectrum weighing in, including such varied groups and viewpoints as Americans United For Separation of Church and State, Hot Air, Thought Crimes, Atheist News and Views, One Good Move, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religous Liberty and the interestingly named House of Zot. USAtheists even declared that Bothwell was denied his seat, which he wasn’t.
For all the hubbub elsewhere, Bothwell, who came in third in the November election, took his seat in City Hall on Tuesday without event, choosing to affirm his oath of office instead of swear on a copy of the Bible. No one shouted, no one tried to seriously challenge his right to do so, and he got an enthusiastic round of applause.