HK Edgerton Stands Up for the NC Constitutional Provision that Office Holders Believe in God

December 17, 2009

My good friend H.K. Edgerton has touched another PC nerve. He wants to force the Asheville city government to abide by the North Carolina Constitutional requirement that office-holders believe in “Almighty God.”

Mr. Cecil Bothwell, formerly a self-described atheist who now classifies himself as a “post-theist”, took office as a newly elected city councilman on December 8. By the terms of the state constitution his belief in nothing disqualifies him from holding that office. H.K. had the temerity to bring up that inconvenient fact and has caused quite a stir.

All the tony people seem to think such a requirement to be quite uncouth in our Oh-So-Modern age. “Besides,” they chortle, “The US Constitution trumps the silly little state constitutions every time.” The goblin chorus cackles that Article VI says, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  and then they wrap themselves in a velveteen mantle of hubris claiming that the Supreme Court settled the matter in 1961. “Oh, now there’s a give-away.”

Their snarky reference is to the decision in TORCASO v. WATKINS, CLERK.  APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND.
No. 373.  Argued April 24, 1961.  Decided June 19, 1961.

In this case Mr. Torcaso was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to the position of notary public but he was refused a commission to serve because he refused to declare his belief in God.  The Maryland Appeals Court affirmed this decision but it was reversed on appeal to the US Supreme Court.

While this ruling may have had the effect of forbidding a state to set such a requirement, they specifically avoided the question of whether or not the prohibition of  religious tests in Article VI. In Footnote 1 of the decision they stated that they were reversing it on other grounds. So, sorry, Article VI of the US Constitution has nothing to do with it.

Reading this decision is instructive. One should also remember that this was a Warren Court decision, and the Warren Court was know for its penchant for making things up as they went along. Especially if their decision could effectively undermine the very foundations of this country.

This material point of this matter is the fact that an oath is by nature a religious act. It is not just some vague ritual promise. It calls upon the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Triune God to be a witness to the faithful execution of what is being sworn. Implicit in an oath is the invocation of Divine punishment upon the oath maker should he break that oath. Therefore, a belief in God is fundamentally necessary to the making of an oath.

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