Group Wants to End Atheist Ban on Public Office In Several States
A group in Maryland is looking to end the ban on Atheists holding public office in several states, including Texas.
Texas and Maryland are joined by Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania as states with Constitutions that attempt to prohibit Atheists from holding public office. Examples include...
- Apart from requiring a belief in God to hold public office, Maryland's Constitution requires a belief in God to be a juror or witness for a trial.
- Pennsylvania's Constitution states that no one will be disqualified from serving office, as long as they believe in God and "a future state of rewards and punishments," in other words, Heaven.
- Mississippi's Constitution states, "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state."
- North Carolina's Constitution states, “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”
However, such limitations are difficult to enforce as the U.S. Constitution, which supersedes all state Constitutions, specifically says in Article VI that no test of faith will be required to hold office.
The Openly Secular coalition is now working to get the states to remove the anti-Atheist portions of their constitution, which they call quiet bigotry and discrimination against Atheists and Agnostics. Openly Secular's chairman Todd Stiefel said,
If it was on the books that Jews couldn’t hold public office, or that African-Americans or women couldn’t vote, that would be a no-brainer. You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?
Rob Boston, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also spoke out on the subject, comparing it to the perceived persecution Christians has spoken out against lately,
Right now we hear a lot of talk from conservative Christians about their being persecuted and their being forced to accommodate same-sex marriage. But there’s nothing in the state constitutions that targets Christians like these provisions do about nonbelievers.
Openly Secular has also referenced a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center that reinforces the bias against Atheists. According to the poll, nearly half of Americans would disapprove of a family member marrying an atheist, 53% would be less like to vote for a presidential candidate who was openly Atheist, and that being an Atheist was deemed the worst trait a candidate could have, worse than infidelity and drug use.
Their current plan is to lobby legislators to begin dialogue on changing the offending parts of the state Constitutions, but one hurdle they're expecting is finding lawmakers willing to step up and acknowledge that the rules are unjust.