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Religion and Politics

The close proximity among Halloween, Election Day and Thanksgiving puts me in mind of a particular former (and now late) in-law. I’ll call him Bill.

Bill was a man of many opinions. None was sensible. Most were racist.

Bill believed the only mistake Richard Nixon made was getting caught. He believed affirmative action was unfair to whites. And he thought weekends existed solely for getting drunk and philandering with whatever female was nearby – despite being married with three kids.

Bill loved to bloviate about politics and religion, and I loved to tell him what a moron he was. Of course, the drunker he got the less he liked that. Halloween reminds me of Bill because, like Dr. Jekyll upon drinking the serum, he became Mr. Hyde, terrorizing family, neighbors, friends, and anyone else who happened upon his imposing, drunken, 6-foot-4-inch frame and dared disagree with him.

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IMHO

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Bill’s predilection for politics might make the connection he holds to Election Day in my mind seem obvious, but there’s more to it. His marriage into our family might never have occurred were it not for the 1972 re-election of his hero Nixon, for it was during an election night barroom watch party (long before that term was coined) that he met my relative, his future wife.

Thanksgiving, of course, is where it all converged: A four-day weekend with the whole family, over the course of which an increasingly inebriated Bill would push whatever hot button came to his addled mind – religion, politics, John Madden (I’m serious ) – for no other reason than wanting something to argue about.

Watching what has transpired here in Greenville as Election Day approaches, I can’t help but be reminded of Bill.

For a couple of weeks, we had a person (or group) placing unsigned (read: cowardly) fliers containing what can only be called hate speech on the windows of cars in church parking lots, their sole aim being to derail the candidacy of Calvin Mercer – who has served Greenville for six years – and to do it by calling his religious beliefs into question. Radio ads similar in content and tone have appeared on WTIB, and last week that station’s owner, Henry Hinton, joined the game of dirty pool himself, raising the “religion question” to Mercer during a candidate forum.

Way to go, guys. Bill would be soooo proud.

Overton Makes It Right

As local law enforcement plays hot potato with NC General Statute 136-32 – which stipulates the illegal placement of political signs as a class 1 misdemeanor – one candidate has responded to the Guardian’s documentation and made a good-faith effort to bring his signs into compliance.

By early last week, the campaign of Michael Overton, a first-time city council candidate, had moved a passel of oversize and over-height signs promoting his District 5 run from positions within road and highway rights of way to new  locations behind sidewalks and power lines. We applaud the campaign for doing so.

As for citing the only remaining candidate with apparently infracting signs – Mayor Allen Thomas – the Greenville Police Department, as of this writing, still had not made a determination. This after the Pitt County Sheriff’s Department demurred on the issue, saying it would not cite infractions “within the city limits,” since it operates on the understanding that GPD has primary responsibility for such locations.

Regardless whether the Thomas campaign’s apparently illegal signs are cited, his refusal to correct them unilaterally, along with his failure to denounce the anonymous fliers and radio commercials described in the first item above, makes one fact beyond dispute: The needle has fallen off the mayor’s moral compass.

Again, kudos to Mr. Overton for doing the right thing.

Responses (11)

  1. Anthony, do you know which group was posting those fliers and airing those ads? I heard from a friend about these fliers, but haven’t seen one myself. I think it is entirely despicable for someone to attack another person’s religion for electoral purposes. It shows me that those individuals actively seek to manipulate and mislead the religious for personal gain.

    • Anthony Noel says:

      My information is that the fliers – I saw a copy of one – are unsigned. My best info is that the radio ads were purchased by a PAC called “Citizens for a Greater Greenville.” Apparently “greater,” at least in their minds, doesn’t include the greater good.

  2. John Collins says:

    Tony, I’m generally sympathetic to the idea that the religious beliefs of candidates should be downplayed, but didn’t Calvin open himself up to questions about his faith by publicly attesting to his Christianity and citing his church attendance and that sort of thing as evidence for the spuriousness of the flyers? Is it never legitimate to ask a candidate about his/her religious beliefs even when they make those beliefs a campaign issue?

    • Anthony Noel says:

      You answer your own question, John, at least in my mind. I don’t think Mercer made it a campaign issue; the fliers and radio ads did. Now if you’re asking whether him responding to them furthers it as an issue and wasn’t Hinton therefore entitled to ask about it, sure he was. But there’s a larger question, to which you allude: How are any candidate’s personal religious beliefs germane to any election? Does this kind of sideshow aid us in getting at the issues that matter at the municipal level?

  3. Don Clement says:

    A point has to be made: religious tests for office are unconstitutional. However, since so many candidates volunteer information about their religious affiliations, we’ve lost sight of the bias that this adds to a decision that should be a nonreligious one. Too many, I fear, feel justified in factoring in religious affiliation in their voting decisions. If a qualified candidate in Greenville were known to be a Muslim, Hindu, or (gasp!) an atheist, what would his or her chances be of getting elected? Similarly, if an active church-going candidate simply refused to reveal any details of his religious life, how well would he fare? I suspect that such a question is what prompts candidates to tout their religious activities.

    • Lisa Ellison says:

      According to section 8, Article 6 of the NC Constitution, atheism is grounds for disqualification.

      Sec. 8. Disqualifications for office.
      The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
      First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
      Second, with respect to any office that is filled by election by the people, any person who is not qualified to vote in an election for that office.
      Third, any person who has been adjudged guilty of treason or any other felony against this State or the United States, or any person who has been adjudged guilty of a felony in another state that also would be a felony if it had been committed in this State, or any person who has been adjudged guilty of corruption or malpractice in any office, or any person who has been removed by impeachment from any office, and who has not been restored to the rights of citizenship in the manner prescribed by law.

      http://www.ncleg.net/Legislation/constitution/article6.html

      • John Collins says:

        Even so, Lisa, I’m not sure I’d say that is really the law in NC. For one thing, it is not enforced. For another, it is patently unconstitutional and thus unenforceable. When there are those weird vestigial statutes — it is illegal to dress up as a clown on Tuesdays in Ayden, or something — I think we should not regard them as laws.

      • Don Clement says:

        Ms Ellison, I was referring to the federal constitution, but I’m glad you reminded me of this stipulation in the state constitution, which appears to violate the First Amendment. It would be interesting to know what would constitute denying the existence of God: an explicit public statement or just being known as a nonbeliever. And who’s god would be in question? a Christian father-son-holy ghost? Yaweh? Allah? or the deist’s God of Nature of some of our founders? If the day ever came that NC candidates were required to stipulate a belief in God, I would hope for a strong movement to overturn this colonial relic.

  4. Wouldn’t you want to know if a candidate were a Satan worshiper and practiced animal sacrifice in his home? Consent of the governed is a sacred responsibility. People have a right to ask. Candidates have a right to decline comment.

    • Anthony Noel says:

      Surely this doesn’t mean, Ken, that you’re naive enough to think a candidate who does worship the Prince of Darkness would admit it, simply because someone asked? Of course not, right? But doesn’t your comment also suggest that you automatically assume any candidate refusing to answer must have something to hide?

      Asking anyone to prove that they are NOT something is schoolyard politics, the sort played only when opponents can’t make a case on the real issues. The people peddling this crap in Greenville should be ashamed of themselves. Attacks on ANYONE’s religion – particularly those which take statements entirely out of context – are just plain cowardly, and the fact that these attacks are being made anonymously is all the proof needed of that.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion – but no one has a right to call an outright lie a “fact.”

  5. Gina Leggett says:

    My biggest issue with this is the anonymity of the flyers which were dispersed. If you feel that you have something substantive to say about a candidate, why would you not sign your name to it? Clearly these flyers were distributed by supporters of Mr. Mercer’s opponent, Dennis Mitchell. That is not to say that Mr. Mitchell approved or was even aware of this action. BUT, Mr. Mitchell consistently posts on Facebook the slogan “vision vs. division” in reference to the difference between himself and Mr. Mercer. How could the distribution of these flyers be intended to cause anything but division? Mr. Mitchell, at minimum, should have denounced this tactic, yet there has been no mention of it in his frequent campaign posts. There are many issues that should be the focus of this election, but religion should not be one of them. Clearly, the distribution of these flyers were an attempt to steer attention away from the candidates public/political records to something that ultimately is a non-issue. Mr. Mercer should not be required to waste his time defending this part of his life when there are bigger issues at stake for the city of Greenville. Sure, people have the right to ask but stand up face to face and ask the question and ask it to both candidates. Making an anonymous claim that can be easily disproven is nothing but a show of fear and cowardice.

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