Atheistic Asheville City Councilman Causes Quite a Stir
By Rev. Mark Creech, executive director
Christian Action League
The recent election of Asheville City Councilman, Cecil Bothwell, has caused quite a stir. Bothwell says he believes in improving the unemployment rate, the crumbling infrastructure and global warming, but he doesn’t believe in God. His avowed atheism or “post theism,” as he calls it, has put him in the crosshairs of political opponents, who claim his want of faith disqualifies him for public office. The controversy has become a national discussion on cable television, talk radio, and the internet.
The argument against Bothwell is that his position as a City Councilman is in violation of the North Carolina Constitution, which clearly states in Article 6, section 8: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” The contention, therefore, is that Bothwell is ineligible to serve.
Bothwell’s supporters, however, are quick to point out that Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution trumps the State’s Constitution. It states: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The argument adds that the “[C]ourts have held that governments can’t make religious test a requirement for holding office.” 
But a Harvard Law Review of the No Religious Test Clause rightly asserts:
“Judicial interpretations of the No Religious Test Clause are virtually nonexistent….
The closest any federal court has come to deciding a case under the No Religious Test Clause was in Torcaso v. Watkins. In Torcaso, The Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of a provision in the Maryland Constitution barring every person who refused to declare a belief in God from holding office in the state. Without specifying on which religion clause of the First Amendment it was basing its decision, the Court held that ‘neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ Because the Court held that this provision of the Maryland Constitution violated the First Amendment, it found it unnecessary to consider whether the No Religious Test Clause applied to the states or was violated.” 
So the question of whether the No Religious Test Clause is applicable to the states is still an unresolved one. Nevertheless, because of the Court’s ruling based on the First Amendment, the issue is largely academic.
Still, a question of greater significance is whether the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins runs afoul of what America’s Founders intended when writing the U.S. Constitution? The preponderance of the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that it does.
The current understanding of what constitutes a religious test is considerably at odds with that of early Americans. This claim is demonstrated repeatedly by excerpts from previous state Constitutions.
In 1780 Massachusetts Constitution provided that every person “chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust,” shall solemnly affirm that “he believes the Christian religion, and has a firm persuasion of its truth.” 
Vermont’s Constitution in 1786 required that before a member of the legislature could take his seat, he had to subscribe to the following declaration: “I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration…” 
Maryland’s 1776 state Constitution declared: “That no other test or qualification ought to be required…that such oath of support and fidelity to the state…and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.” 
Georgia’s Constitution, adopted in 1777, read, “Every officer of the state shall be liable to be called to account by the House of Assembly,” and then it adds that all members of that House “shall be of the Protestant religion” 
The original 1776 Constitution for North Carolina mandated that “no person who should deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of either the Old or New Testament, or who should hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the state, should be capable of holding any office or place of trust in the civil government of the state.” 
Currently, Americans perceive a religious test to be something as simple as requiring an answer to the question: Do you believe in God? Or, are you a Christian? But these were not the questions for the Founders.
Instead, the religious tests to which the Founders referred were actually denominational tests. David Barton, well-known for his research regarding America’s Christian heritage, explains:
“Prescribing a requirement professing ‘I, _________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration [Delaware, 1776] was not considered a religious test. It was simply a qualification for office – a civil requirement. An unacceptable religious test to our Founders would be what we would now call a denominational test: ‘You must be an Anglican (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) to hold office.’ A religious test did not pertain to Christian beliefs, but to specific denominational memberships.” 
The proof that Barton’s assertion is correct and not a revisionist view of American history is not only substantiated by numerous founding documents, but affirmed by Bishop Charles B. Galloway in Christianity and the American Commonwealth, which was written more than a hundred years ago.
Galloway, who made an extensive study of American government and its religious moorings, wrote regarding both the First Amendment and the Religious Test Clause:
“This Article VI., paragraph 3, abolishes all religious tests in the conduct of civil affairs, and secures the freedom and independence of the State from ecclesiastical domination and interference. But the first amendment, adopted in response to the demand of many of the states as their condition of their ratifying the constitution itself, is a more positive declaration, and constitutes what is known as the bill of rights. This is the full and absolute guarantee of perfect religious liberty…Thus the right of individuality and the sovereignty of the conscience were vindicated and protected from outside interference, and the power was forever withheld from the federal government to invade the inner sanctuary of the human soul.
The purpose of the article was not to renounce Christianity or give countenance to infidelity or any pagan religion, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian denominations and ‘prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.’ It was not anti-christian, but anti-sectarian. It would not favor one branch of the Church of Christ over another. The Episcopalians were the predominant sect in some states, the Presbyterians in others, the Congregationalists in others, the Quakers in at least one, while several were nearly evenly balanced numerically in others. It was eminent statesmanship, therefore to eliminate ecclesiastical ambitions and sectarian jealousies from the civil government, by giving the same reverent recognition and sacred protection to all alike. All Churches were put on an equal footing before the supreme law of the nation…
….’Consistent with themselves, the people of 1787 meant by the Federal arrangement nothing but a new and larger organization of government on principles already familiar to the country. The state government’s were not broad enough for national purposes, and the old confederation was deficient in central power. It was only to remedy these two defects, not of principle but of distributive adjustment, that the public mind addressed itself; innovation, to any other end, was never thought of, least of all in reference to religion, a thing utterly apart from the whole design. So that, admitting that the constitution framed on that occasion does not in terms proclaim itself a Christian document, what then? Does it proclaim itself unchristian? For if it is merely silent in the matter, law and reason both tell us that its religious character is to be looked for by interpretation among the people who fashioned it, a people Christian by profession and by genealogy; what is more, by deed of fundamental legislation that cannot deceive.’” 
Barton sums up the view of the Founders, concluding:
“The Founders were well aware that there were atheists and agnostics in that day; but they, or any individual with unorthodox Christian beliefs (relating to the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, future rewards and punishments, and the acknowledgement of the Being of God) could not hold office in government. This exclusion was allowable and completely constitutional as evidenced by the fact that it was part of their constitution.” 
Is the North Carolina Constitution’s barring of atheists from public service unconstitutional? The answer to that question, based on a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of the First Amendment is a unanimous, “Yes!” But that ruling is clearly contrary to the original intent of the nation’s Constitution. It is in stark contrast to the consensus of recorded history’s requirement that the Constitution be interpreted in the light of the Christian religion.
As to whether the state’s prohibition is contrary to the U.S. Constitution’s Religious Test Clause, the answer is that no such question has ever been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, it should be apparent that the Founders wouldn’t have had any objection to it, nor seen it as unconstitutional.
Yet there is still one other critical question: Can an avowed atheist who holds public office serve the people well? The answer to this question may not be absolute. But what is absolute is that a genuine atheist, who says that the question of God is irrelevant, is fundamentally handicapped for public service.
He is handicapped because he acknowledges that there is no higher authority in life than his own views, the views of his constituents, or some other purely human source of wisdom. And if there is no higher authority than man himself, then there are no moral absolutes from which he may draw. Such an approach ultimately leads to tyranny and despotism. In the end it is man alone and his ever-changing estimates of what is right and what is wrong that rules the day.
Renowned Presbyterian minister, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy once noted:
“I have challenged people to try to show me why, from an atheistic point of view, there is any better reason for me to help an elderly woman across the street, rather than run her over with my car if she gets in the way. Or steal her purse and knock her teeth out (apart from the consequences of getting caught). People don’t realize that from an atheistic point of view, you can make no solid case for one or the other. This has been recognized by the leading atheistic, existential philosophers, like Camus and Sartre. They say that all that matters is that you act. Whether you knock her down or help her across the street is immaterial; what counts is that you exercise your own will.” 
A world without God is a world with no moral center. Moreover, those that deny God and his existence, or more specifically, those that deny his Son, Jesus Christ, are disconnected from what the Founders believed to be the center from which government should move.
The city of Asheville would be sufficiently admonished to heed the words of John Jay, one of the men most responsible for the ratification of the U. S. Constitution and selected by George Washington as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court:
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” 
 Christianity and the American Commonwealth, Bishop Charles B. Galloway, D.D, L.D. Delivered in the Chapel at Emory College, Oxford, Ga. March 1898, American Vision, 2005 pg. 105
 The Myth of Separation, David Barton, Wallbuilder Press, 1992, pg. 34
 Christianity and the American Commonwealth, 105
 Ibid, pg. 104
 The Myth of Separation, pg. 33
 Christianity and the American Commonwealth, pgs. 127-129
 The Myth of Separation, pg. 34
 What if Jesus Had Never Been Born, D. James Kennedy, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994, pg. 38
 The Myth of Separation, pg. 35