In North Carolina, an Atheist Will Run for Congress in 2012 March 29, 2011

In North Carolina, an Atheist Will Run for Congress in 2012

You may remember Cecil Bothwell, the atheist who won an election to become city councilperson in Asheville, North Carolina.

When he ran, his atheism was used against him by his opponents. Despite that, he won the race… but that didn’t stop opponents from claiming atheists couldn’t serve in elected office because it was unconstitutional. Rachel Maddow even ran a segment covering the Bothwell controversy:

Of course, the law was on Bothwell’s side and he was able to keep his seat. That all happened at the end of 2009.

Bothwell has received a lot of publicity since then, including winning the “Courageous Elected Official of 2009” award from American Atheists. He is invited to speak across the nation frequently and his books (including the recent Finding Your Way in Asheville 2011/2012) are selling better than ever.

With all that in mind, Bothwell has officially announced that he will make a run for Congress in 2012.

I herewith declare my candidacy for the United States Congress in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. This decision was jump-started by recent events in both the Buncombe County Democratic Party and Congress.

The election is more than 18 months away, but it will take that kind of time to build a viable grass-roots campaign across the 15 counties of Western North Carolina. Position statements, organizing information, and all the rest will be posted here in coming days…

The seat is currently held by “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrat Heath Shuler. Among his many decisions, Shuler rightly voted against DADT, but wrongly voted against stimulus funding. And then, there’s this:

Earlier this year, he launched an intraparty campaign to unseat former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, claiming congressional Democrats needed a more conservative leader.

Regardless of what you think of Pelosi, the idea that the Democrats need a “more conservative leader” is absurd. They’re hardly that liberal to begin with and they could stand to be more so.

Shuler will probably run again, though, so Bothwell will campaign as an independent. The Asheville Citizen-Times puts that in context:

This means Bothwell will avoid a confrontation in a primary. And that suggests he’s more interested in trying to steer the debate toward his brand of Democratic politics than actually winning. If Bothwell really wanted a decisive victory, he’d line up against Shuler and go head to head.

But that would also mean going wallet-to-wallet, and Bothwell doesn’t have that kind of money.

No doubt this race will be an uphill battle for him. Bothwell has a long way to go to make himself known to voters outside of Asheville. But it’s terrific to see an atheist running for a high public office.

If Bothwell wins, that would make him only the second Congressperson to openly not believe in a god (joining California Democrat Pete Stark) — and the only one willing to describe himself as an “atheist.”

I would never suggest voting for someone simply because he’s an atheist (or even a Democrat). But his positions probably sit well with a lot of you (ending the war on drugs, introducing a public option into the health care system, etc).

It’s early, but you can already donate to Bothwell’s campaign.

If you’re excited about this, please help spread the word. The moment the attack ads from his opponents begin, you know the national coverage will be huge. It’d be nice to have a groundswell of support before that happens.

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  • Steve

    Good luck to Mr Bothwell, just a shame that he has to be judged on his lack of belief, here in the UK, it really doesn’t matter, only the candidate’s policies. As I’ve stated before, our deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg is openly atheist, I admire him for that but not his policies!!!

  • John

    Shuler rightly voted against DADT, but wrongly voted against stimulus funding. [among others]

    I thought this was a blog about atheism, not politics.

  • beckster

    I wish him luck, but I imagine the seat in that part of the state will go to the Republican if he and Shuler split the votes of progressives/liberals.

  • MDSD

    I love Bothwell’s platform! It’s way more green party than democrat. That plus standing up for being an open atheist almost makes me wish I lived in NC… Thanks for posting.

  • gsw

    Image anyone daring to tell a muslim they ‘couldn’t serve in elected office’ just because islam rejects the very concept of democracy! CAIR would blow its top. People would be sued right and left. Offended people would be crawling out of the woodwork!

    The founding fathers had nothing against atheism (not so sure about islam tho’).

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly what the Democratic party and the country need, a good shove leftward. This is terrific news all around, and I wholeheartedly support Mr Bothwell.

  • Shells

    I hate that the left side of the political spectrum in America is called “liberal”. It’s a misleading spectrum, really. We ought to just define people by how much they want freedom, and how much they want government. On such a scale, the Democrats would be towards massive government and less liberty. I don’t mean to start a political debate, but that’s just how you’d put them onto a meaningful political scale.

    Good luck to Bothwell!

  • Mark

    Go Cecil!!!!

  • Johnnyrelentless

    @Shells: Cons want big gov more so than libs. They want gov in our bedrooms. They want to tell us who we can marry and sleep with. They want to tell us who we should worship. They want gov to insert intrusive sonagram devices into our women’s hoohoos if they want an abortion. They want to force them to listen to Christian preaching at fake ‘pregnancy clinics.’ They want our children dying for lack of food, shelter, and health care, but a fetus is sacred! And after all that, they want us to be ‘governed’ as a helpless slave class to the wealthy. They want to destroy out democracy, where We The People have a say, and replace it with an aristocraric theocracy!

  • SJG

    Many years ago, a wrestler ran for governor of Michigan. And he did win. When he was in office, he went by the US Constitution as his guide.

    Saddly, he lost the last time because he insisted of playing by the rules.

    We need people who respect that, playing by the rules, to unseat those who prefer using super glue to their bottoms.

  • Lost In The Bible Belt

    How long before someone with this kind of courage is seen here in the buckle of the bible belt? Not soon enough for me!

  • Ian Murphy is also an atheist running for Congress for NY-26. Special election to replace Chris Lee is May 24.

  • Liz


    Get the fuck over yourself. Comments like these annoy the shit out of me.

  • Hey, if he gets elected, Bernie Sanders won’t feel so alone 🙂

    I’m a Vermonter and am very happy that we’ve got Bernie, btw.

  • Concerned Comrade

    Among his many decisions, Shuler rightly voted against DADT, but wrongly voted against stimulus funding.

    Lines like this are a bit worrying to find in any article. Editorializing is fine, but blanket judgments almost never seem to be a good idea, and should at least be explained in context.

    Other than that, great reporting, and an exciting news item. Thanks!

  • Nicoline

    The founding fathers had nothing against atheism (not so sure about islam tho’).

    Some of the Founding Fathers later concluded a treaty with Tripoli, which said, among other things: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

    Doesn’t sound as though they had a problem with islam, does it?

    I made a donation to Bothwell’s campaign, because I think we should have more atheists in Congress, people who can actually write sensible legislation instead of basing their world view on a Bronze Age text.

  • Hemant, thanks for the push! And thanks to all of you who have contributed. Just as my City Council campaign was a grass roots effort (the largest campaign in our city history, with over 540 donors – avg. $50 – and over 700 volunteers), I want this to be a truly populist effort.

    Hopefully we’ll manage to achieve real electoral reform at some point, with ranked voting and public financing … but until then, the grassroots needs bodies and lots of small donations to gain traction.

    And again, thanks.

  • Barbara

    He’s got my support. I may not be able to vote for him, but I will definitely impart some financial support his way. 🙂

  • Andymo

    “Shuler rightly voted against DADT, but wrongly voted against stimulus funding. [among others]”

    Really, govt to spend more money? How did that work out for Japan? Big government sure lurves Keynesian economic policies. Less govt managing every aspect of our lives means more freedom – for us athiests too.

  • Gail

    I agree that saying the dems need to be more conservative is a definite stretch. It’s like how Newt Gingrich’s presidential platform so far is that we need a “center right” government, which he doesn’t seem to realize we already have. The conservatives have gotten more and more extreme while the dems have absorbed more centrist views.

    Anyway, I don’t really like dems or the GOP. I usually vote Green party and am often pretty desperate to find anyone I like enough to vote for at all.

  • derek

    In the eyes of most conservative commentators all liberals are radicals. Anyone to the left of O’Reilly is a “radical liberal” in his opinion. Personally, I believe that pastors and priests in this country are the real ones wielding power. The clergy have thousands of voters who will whiling vote on what they decide “god” wants. I really do blame the “center right” position of America on the success of the conservative propaganda machine that we call Fox News.

  • diane

    I agree with his platform, I have no problem with his beliefs, but how will he ever get elected in this bible belt?  I will vote for him

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