Law against atheists must be repealed

by Jim Longworth

‘Tis the season to be jolly. A time when our hearts are filled with love and goodwill to all men. Then there’s Asheville, where it’s the season for persecuting atheists.

Earlier this month, atheist Cecil Bothwell was sworn in, then sworn at, as Asheville’s newest member of city council. Bothwell haters say his election violates an 1868 state law which forbids anyone “who shall deny the being of Almighty God” from holding office. Fortunately this antiquated law is trumped by a 1961 Supreme Court ruling which prohibits states from requiring candidates to meet any kind of religious test. Still, Bothwell’s critics are threatening to mount a legal challenge, and while it is sure to fail, their very attempt is a stain on our societal melting pot. Unfortunately, the city of Asheville is not alone in its distaste for atheists.

A new study by the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology finds that Americans perceive atheists as the group least likely to embrace common values and a shared vision of society. Meanwhile, a study by the American Mosaic

Project reports that, “Atheists are the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.” And a Gallup poll reveals that Americans are least likely to vote for an atheist candidate than any other group.”

It’s no wonder, then, that so many atheists refuse to come out of the closet, and that makes it difficult for pollsters to track their actual numbers. The University of Minnesota estimates that 14 percent of Americans claim, “no religious identity,” and that 7 percent say they do not believe in God. Regardless, the numbers are significant, and always have been. Groups like American Atheists, founded in 1963, advocate for nonbelievers and push for tolerance, but most Americans just aren’t ready or willing to accept what they consider as evil doers. In fact, as of this writing, six other states still have anti-atheist laws on the books. They are: Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas, none of which are poised to repeal their laws any time soon.

In North Carolina, for example, changing the state Constitution requires a 60 pecent vote in both legislative chambers, followed by a simple majority in a statewide vote. The operative word here is “simple,” because it’s the simple minded, hypocritical people who derive some great satisfaction from their own ignorance and prejudice.

MarkTwain wrote, “A man is accepted into a church for what he believes, andhe is turned out for what he knows.” Translation: So-called people offaith will welcome you with open arms until you start to question themyths of organized religion, or the existence of a single God. That’swhen the welcome mat gets rolled up.

Onewho professes atheism shouldn’t fear reprisals, especially from goodChristians, and especially not during this holy season. But that’s thedilemma facing Cecil Bothwell, who is, by the way, author ofAsheville’s official guide book. Ironic, isn’t it, that the man whohelps to promote the city’s assets, is considered by many there to be aliability? Call it a separation of church and state of mind.

JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).