Tags:Online magazine Religious Dispaches examines the coming Shuler vs. Bothwell contest in an article titled "Can A Progressive Atheist Defeat the Democrats' 'Family' Man in NC?"
Congressman Heath Shuler is best known for a few things: his NFL career, his challenge of Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic Leadership, and his co-sponsorship of anti-abortion bills. Once lauded as a new breed of Democrat, able to win in a 'red' district by running to the right of the party, it now looks as though the conservative evangelical “Blue Dog” Democrat may be on his way out.Read the full article
If he opts to run for reelection in 2012 Shuler will face a primary challenge for his seat in North Carolina's 11th District from a self-proclaimed progressive Democrat who is probably best known for being an atheist city councilman in a state that still requires government officials to believe in “Almighty God.” And if Shuler can fend off a primary challenge, he may still lose the support of his right flank to a newly-drawn district even more conservative than before.
The incumbent's primary challenger, Cecil Bothwell, actually prefers the term “nontheist” to “atheist.”
“I know that some atheists feel that stance ducks the issue and that we should force the issue,” he says, “But my ethical/spiritual beliefs ought not to be of any import in holding public office. I'm not in any way running as an 'atheist.'”
But that hasn't stopped efforts by others to use his beliefs to gain political points. During his Asheville City Council campaign in 2009, two direct mailings were sent around warning voters of his non-belief, and after his election opponents tried to prevent him from being sworn in. The U.S. Constitution, of course, forbids religious tests for office, so the former green builder, journalist, and author (of a political biography of preacher Billy Graham) was able to take his seat.
A challenge to Heath Shuler would likely bring religion to the fore for Bothwell once again as Shuler's religious beliefs have played a role both in stoking constituents' anger and in Bothwell's decision to challenge him in 2012.