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

DC Area Humanists! Join the DC-Area Meetup for a night with Roy Zimmerman Live!...

36 minutes ago

American Humanist Association

In his latest article for The Huffington Post, AHA Executive Director Roy Speckh...

3 hours ago

American Humanist Association

God may rest on Sunday, but not the AHA! We were notified that the Ocala (FL) Po...

23 hours ago

American Humanist Association

We're excited to participate in the People's Climate March in NYC today, which i...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Openly Secular Project has launched! Its mission is to eliminate discriminat...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Happy Friday Everyone! Find more humor at: http://goo.gl/vMqskv

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

This is a great info-graphic explaining the nature of morality. For more inform...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA's Merrill Miller will be at the 2014 Religion Newswriters Association Confer...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Apparently it is impossible to fly an airplane without believing in God. Do you...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

We're looking for a web developer to implement design improvements to our Darwin...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Who will be at Apostacon this weekend? From Friday the 19th to Sunday the 21st,...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association joined with 35 groups recently in supporting R...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Fox News and The Kelly File cover the United States Air Force's decision to reve...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

VICTORY! In response to the demand of the AHA, with help from the Military Asso...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

What do kids say about God? Some in this group say he creates apples, is kinda l...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

The battle continues for Texas atheist group, the Metroplex Atheists Rowlett. Th...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

The Satanic Temple decides to join in the fun when a Florida judge ruled in favo...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

The behavior of Ray Rice is not just one single occurrence that needs to be reme...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

What is your opinion on using crowd-funding to raise money for an abortion? Ge...

6 days ago