“(These clauses) get a little traction for a few days until someone finally puts a kibosh on it and says, ‘Uh, no,’” he said.
But Cecil Bothwell, an Asheville City Council member, said he felt the impact of the law in 2009, when it was used to challenge his election. “I was blown away,” he said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Discussion of the “Almighty God” section was prompted by two letters — written by political opponents — declaring that Bothwell, an atheist, would bring the town to hell.
Bothwell said religion should not have been a factor in his election.
“The idea is that the world that we live in is secular,” he said. “The answers that we need to find are based on best practices, not best beliefs.”
Though the case for Bothwell’s removal was eventually dismissed, he said his story gained national attention.
After his case was picked up by talk show host Rachel Maddow, Bothwell said a Google search of “Cecil Bothwell, atheist” led to more than 250,000 search results — with coverage in eight languages.
But H.K. Edgerton, a challenger of Bothwell’s election, said that according to the Constitution, the council member illegally served his terms.
“If it says it, it’s the law,” he said. “If you break it, then there ought to be a consequence for the law.”
Edgerton said the state must either change the law or enforce it.
“What am I going to tell my babies?” he said. “That now, you can just pick and choose what laws you want?”
Amanda Martin, an attorney specializing in media with Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC, said antiquated laws remain unless they are actively changed.
N.C. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said “dead letters” — laws on the book that are not enforced — are not purposefully maintained.
“It’s not that there’s an intention to keep them; it’s just the barrier to remove them is so great,” he said.
Matt Hughes, chairperson of the Orange County Democratic Party, said he would support the legislature’s revisiting the text.
Green said he would support a constitutional update. “It creates a bad image that the state would not correct something that is a clear violation of religious liberty,” he said.
While North Carolina is not alone in its religious requirement for office, Green said this kind of holdover from the colonial period and other church and state issues are often overlooked. The state is one of several to include clauses nullified by the later U.S. Constitution. “Most of the more recent states — let’s put it that way — did not put in these clauses because they were modeled after the federal Constitution.”