Rachel Maddow Speaks About the Cecil Bothwell Case December 16, 2009

Rachel Maddow Speaks About the Cecil Bothwell Case

The other night, Rachel Maddow did a segment about the Cecil Bothwell case — it’s worth watching just to hear him not take an oath to God when swearing in to office.

Maddow interviewed Katy Parker, the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina.

So to summarize:

The NC state constitution says atheists cannot run for public office.

The United States Constitution says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”

The Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution says that when there is conflict between federal and state constitutions, the U.S. Constitution wins.

Still, there could theoretically be a lawsuit pending against Bothwell taking office.

It’s amazing that this is still a story and that more Christians and religious politicians in the state are not speaking out against this idiotic and archaic law.

(Thanks to everyone for the link)


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  • Tom

    Lawsuit won’t happen. This is a kerfuffle over what everyone (with perhaps a limited few nutjob exceptions) recognizes as a foolish archaic law. No judge will even grant a hearing on it.

  • gski

    Someone should ask the voters in Asheville if they want him in office.

  • Martin

    The voters in Asheville voted for him. Why do certain groups want to take away what the majority of people asked for.

  • Claudia

    Someone should ask the voters in Asheville if they want him in office.

    They did ask the voters in this thing we call an “election”.

  • Nice segment.

  • The religious won’t speak out about it because it upholds their own beliefs. Since the religious put the law in place, why would they try to denounce it?

  • Jonas

    The religious won’t speak out about it because it upholds their own beliefs.

    As Maddow pointed out in the segment, it would also apply to members of minority religions. If one doesn’t believe in an Almighty God. That is if we were an explicit Theocracy, under a specific religion. If one has polytheistic beliefs, that goes against the state law in question.

    According to some Jewish sites, effectively the God Jews worship, is not the same one Christians worship.

    Why Jews can’t be for Jesus.

    Jewish standards for a saviour haven’t been met. For the Christian they have. Sounds like a different deity to me. – It’s fine if ‘Almighty God’ is ambiguous. I personally see God in energy – A good breakfast, coal, yum.
    (Ok not really – just like the steven weinberg quote)

  • Sesoron

    Technically, I’m not sure the precise wording of that clause necessarily precludes atheists. It depends on the definition of “deny”. If “deny” means to claim certainty that a claim is false, then I’d say mainstream atheists don’t literally deny the existence of god, we just think it’s far too ridiculously unlikely to make decisions based on assuming it’s true. It’s that whole “do not believe god exists” versus “believe god does not exist” dilemma. Sense 2 of “deny” in the Wiktionary says that it means “to assert that something is not true”, so given that, the “law” is technically compatible with 2 on the seven-point atheism-theism scale, which still falls under atheism. As in:
    1. Certain atheist (god does not exist)
    2. Rational atheist (we can’t know, but it’s extremely unlikely)
    3. Atheistic agnostic (god probably does not exist)
    4. True agnostic (god may or may not exist)
    5. Theistic agnostic (god probably exists)
    6. Reserved theist (we can’t know, but it’s extremely likely)
    7. Certain theist (god exists)

  • Scott Hanley

    “[A]ny office or public trust under the United States” would refer specifically to federal positions; at the time the no religious tests clause was written, the Constitution did not extend that far into state activities, so it’s not at issue here.

    You’d want to appeal to the “equal protection of the laws” clause in the 14th Amendment instead, which has been interpreted as to make the Bill of Rights enforceable on the states. That puts the NC Constitution in conflict with the First Amendment establishment clause and renders the Christians-only provision illegal.

  • Gary

    The religious won’t speak out about it because it upholds their own beliefs. Since the religious put the law in place, why would they try to denounce it

    Precisely. The provision is unenforceable because it conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, but is probably considered worth retaining because of its symbolic significance.

    In that respect, it’s like the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Those words are there as a matter of law, but it’s a peculiar sort of law that prescribes no penalty for violating it. Indeed, it’s not clear what violating the law might consist of. The point of the law is simply the symbolic assertion by the United States government that, in order to be a good American, one has to believe in God.

  • Erp

    Actually I suspect it is kept around because the hassle of removing it from the SC Constitution is too much given that it is void anyway (amendments must be voted upon in a general election and I’m not sure one of this nature would pass). I don’t see it disappearing in the near future (barring a general convention and complete rewrite of the SC constitution).

  • Rachel Maddow > Keith Olbermann, any day of the week. Seriously.

    On a more serious note, though, I think another thing religious people should be concerned about regarding this “law” is that the term “Almighty God” is very ill-defined. It’d be fairly easy for a particular religious group to make a legal case to co-opt that term as referring to a specific deity — say, their own — and thus hammer out not just nontheists, but theists who aren’t the *right kind* of theist.

  • It’s nice to see an interview taken from a rational standpoint, not the usual Fox propaganda machine. Though, I would have to agree with Katy Parker in that it will most likely not be an overly serious issue. If it’s taken to the supreme court, one quick look at Section 6 and that’s the end of that case.

  • Ron in Houston

    Theoretically I can fly to the moon. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen though.

    The threats to Bothwell were just people pumping themselves up and acting like asshats.

  • Gary

    Actually I suspect it is kept around because the hassle of removing it from the SC Constitution is too much given that it is void anyway (amendments must be voted upon in a general election and I’m not sure one of this nature would pass).

    It’s one thing to say that the provision remains on the books because it would be a hassle to remove it, and another to say that an amendment to remove it might not pass. If such an amendment failed to pass, one would suspect that the reason would be that the voters wanted to it to remain because of its symbolic significance.

  • MLB

    I saw the segment. If I am not mistaken, any lawsuit regarding an attack on a state constitution lies directly to the United States Supreme Court.

    Once again, I see the ACLU jumping on the bandwagon to assail God and Jesus. Typical.

    In the end there won’t be any fancy rules of evidence.

    You all sure spend a lot of time attacking religions, and in particular Christianity. I really want to see if you have the guts to attack the Muslims. Why are you not posting any verbal attacks against them? Hmmmm….makes ya think………….

  • muggle

    Open and shut and it’s only being talked about because of the idiots calling for him to be removed.

    MLB get real. Let’s see American Muslims demand sharia law and you’ll see plenty of it.

  • Claudia

    I saw the segment. If I am not mistaken, any lawsuit regarding an attack on a state constitution lies directly to the United States Supreme Court.

    Wow, you really think something can just go from an idea in someones head to the Supreme Court just like that? No dear, there’s a whole series of lower courts you have to get through first. Of course the supremacy clause means that any case would be summarily dismissed by any minimally competent judge.

    Once again, I see the ACLU jumping on the bandwagon to assail God and Jesus. Typical.

    So when an atheist is protected from discrimination, Jesus is being attacked? So if someone beats me up because I’m an atheist the lawyer defending me hates Jesus? Please tell me you’re joking. Are your convictions so weak that you feel that your religion is attacked merely by the act of defending someone else?

    In the end there won’t be any fancy rules of evidence.

    I’ve simply no idea what that even means.

    You all sure spend a lot of time attacking religions, and in particular Christianity. I really want to see if you have the guts to attack the Muslims. Why are you not posting any verbal attacks against them? Hmmmm….makes ya think………….

    Yep, it makes me think that you ask questions and don’t bother to read the answers.

  • Stellar Duck

    1. Certain atheist (god does not exist)
    2. Rational atheist (we can’t know, but it’s extremely unlikely)
    3. Atheistic agnostic (god probably does not exist)
    4. True agnostic (god may or may not exist)
    5. Theistic agnostic (god probably exists)
    6. Reserved theist (we can’t know, but it’s extremely likely)
    7. Certain theist (god exists)

    Heh! This totally reminds me of alignments in AD&D. Or at least I laughed when I thought that True Agnostic = True Neutral. 😀
    I mean, I’ve seen that 7 point scale plenty of times before but tonight I suddenly thought AD&D.

    Not that I’m implying that atheists are aligned Good and theists Evil. At all. 😛

    Edit: and apologies for bringing the geek into the discourse. 🙂

  • Autumnal Harvest

    “[A]ny office or public trust under the United States” would refer specifically to federal positions; at the time the no religious tests clause was written, the Constitution did not extend that far into state activities, so it’s not at issue here.

    I disagree, the context indicates that it refers to officers of both federal and state governments. From Article VI of the U.S. Constitution (emphasis added):

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

    I agree that this provision is also unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment, applied to the states via the 14th, so our disagreement about Article VI is rather academic.

  • Richard Wade

    MLB:
    You are beginning to repeat the same tactics on more than one post on this site. They include:

    Off-topic tangents about how atheists attack religion.

    Off-topic tangents about how Christians are innocent of any improper intrusion into government.

    Off-topic tangents about how atheists are somehow cowardly because they don’t attack Islam.

    Off-topic tangents about your notions of why atheists disbelieve, essentially because they want to have fun sinning.

    Off-topic tangents about how atheism is the cause of all sorts of social problems and even the fall of civilizations.

    All these and other remarks of yours have been thoroughly rebutted by several people including me, but you have not responded, not once, to any of our rebutting your absurd, off-topic tangents.

    These are the tactics of a troll.

    A troll is a cowardly, narcissistic, lonely little creature who is terrified of a topic being discussed by intelligent and well-mannered people who challenge his fragile, flimsy belief system. A troll wants to hijack the discussion, to degrade it into an endless loop where everyone is paying attention only to him instead of the topic that scares him so much. He himself becomes the off-topic tangent. He will never directly answer back to the arguments against his statements because he lacks both the courage and the ability. A troll feeds off of that attention, not at all minding that it is negative. Without that constant attention, a troll begins to feel the terror of fading away into nonexistence. He needs continuous attention for reassurance that he is still there.

    MLB, if you don’t want to be labeled a troll and subsequently ignored by most people here except for the unwise few who don’t realize that feeding a troll attention means being suckered into his plan to degrade the conversation, or the newcomers who haven’t yet caught on that you are, indeed, a troll, or be eventually, as a last resort and with great reluctance, even banned from this site, then stop repeating these off-topic tangents and either say something that you are actually willing to defend in a back-and-forth dialogue with those who challenge you, or just slink away and go infest some other website until they too inevitably realize that you are a troll, and probably won’t give you the chance to change your behavior that I am offering you.

  • I’m going to repeat what I said on FaceBook (with the added comment that the 14th Amendment makes ALL of the Constitution apply to the States, not just the Bill of Rights, and the Supremacy Clause and Article VI (no religious test) come before the BoR):

    In my opinion Rachel dropped the ball just as most everyone reporting on this has done. I suspect it’s been done deliberately. It really stops being a story once you point out that every court in the nation must follow the decisions of the US Supreme Court (except SCOTUS itself of course) and that in 1961 in Torcaso v. Watkins SCOTUS unanimously struck down the provision of the Maryland constitution that required belief in God to hold public office.

    SCOTUS said “neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”
    It further said that no citizen should be asked to sacrifice constitutional liberties simply to hold a public office.

    So since every court in the union has to follow that precedent, what case is there to be had?
    While I suppose the publicity this brings to discrimination against atheists is good, I’m really getting tired of this story.

  • Spurs Fan

    Mike-good link. I am so sick and tired of folks saying the ACLU is anti-Christian. Like any organization, I think the ACLU has some issues, but overall, it’s a fair, pro-1st Amendment organization that has defended the religious rights of many, Christians included.