Hnn | HNN Articles

Unelectable Atheists: U.S. States That Prohibit Godless Americans From Holding Public Office

 

By Matthew Bulger

With election season upon us, and a near constant stream of public jabs and rebuttals between incumbents and their challengers, we should focus on something besides the Americans that are running for office. Instead, let’s turn our attention to a rather peculiar set of state laws relating to elections and nonreligious Americans.

It’s well known that there aren’t many open atheists in Congress or in state government, and that atheists aren’t held in high esteem by potential voters. Some question our dedication to what they view as a “Christian nation” while others feel that they can’t relate to a candidate who doesn’t share the same faith as they do.

Whatever the reason, public distrust isn’t the only means by which atheists are discouraged for running from office. In fact, running for a spot in state legislatures as an atheist is outright illegal in some states. Obviously, these laws are trumped by the “No Religious Test Clause” of the United States Constitution, which is found in Article VI, paragraph 3, and states that:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

However, these laws are still on the books and have given atheist candidates trouble in the past. Cecil Bothwell, an atheist who in 2009 won an election for a Asheville, North Carolina city council seat, was almost unseated by local critics who pointed to a provision in North Carolina’s constitution that prohibited nonbelievers from being elected. This provision of the state constitution is similar to provisions in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The provisions follow:

Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1:
No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland, Article 37:
That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2:
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

Texas, Article 1, Section 4:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

So, what do you think of these laws? Are they an affront to the secular nature of our local, state, and federal governments, or are they just antiquated but harmless relics from the past? Should there be an active effort to remove these anti-atheist provisions from the respective state constitutions, or should the nonreligious movement just let federal law trump these discriminatory provisions as conflicts arise?

I think that the legislatures of these states have a duty to eventually get around to removing these provisions and any other elements of their state constitutions that institutionalize discrimination. Now might not be the time due to the large number of pressing issues that plague this nation, but the change ought to eventually be made. Atheists, or any other religious minority for that matter, shouldn’t have to go to court after winning an election just so that federal law is upheld and discrimination is rejected. 

Matthew Bulger is the legislative and program assistant for the American Humanist Association.

blog comments powered by Disqus

American Humanist Association

Today is Ask an Atheist Day! Have a question about atheism, humanism, or non-bel...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Could we see an open Humanist in Congress in 2016? It seems Maryland Senator Jam...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

This week on The Humanist Hour #146: A Conversation with Lisa Montoya, Seminary...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Mother's Day is right around the corner! If you are shopping for that special la...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

The world's most and least religious countries.

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Shortly after we ensure that teachers won't pass out Bibles to their students at...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Robert Ray, President of Humanists of North Puget Sound, delivered a humanist in...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Don't miss Kelly Carlin, daughter of atheist comedian George Carlin, at AHA's 74...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

What should the humanist response to terrorism be? Clay Farris Naff has some pro...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Are you a high school or college student interested in joining us at our 74th an...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

"Let us give a toast to Christopher Hitchens on what would have been his 66th bi...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

After a letter from our Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a public school distric...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

It's time for another episode of the Cartoon History of Humanism!

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Thank Godfolk It’s Friday! Religious Funnies from around the World!

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Secular Coalition for America will hold its annual Lobby Day & Secular Summi...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 52 percent of Americans support allowi...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

School nurse refuses care for kid who opted out of Pledge. AHA to the rescue!

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

What will the world's religious landscape look like in 2050?

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

The US ranked 16th overall for social progressiveness. Does that surprise you? W...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

Don't miss sessions on humanism, science, community building, pre-conference wor...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Madison city council recently voted to add atheists to the list of protected...

10 days ago

American Humanist Association

Is there room for difference of thought in the same church? Many think there is...

10 days ago

American Humanist Association

This week on the Humanist Hour Podcast, Bo chats with graphic novelist, Sean Mic...

10 days ago

American Humanist Association

APPLY TODAY! Become a professional advocate. Form a meaningful community. Build...

11 days ago

American Humanist Association

Come to Denver and hang out with all of our wonderful guests! Need to register?...

11 days ago

American Humanist Association

Public education varies around the world. Culture influences education more than...

11 days ago