Atheists Banned From Public Office in 7 States

Nonbelievers attempting to get rules dumped
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Suggested by WarmWeatherGuy
Posted Dec 9, 2014 2:42 PM CST
Updated Dec 13, 2014 3:22 PM CST
Atheists Banned From Public Office in 7 States
VP Joe Biden, left, places his hand on the Biden Family Bible held by his wife, Jill, as he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2013.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If you're an atheist living in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Texas, you're technically not allowed to hold public office. Those states have articles in their constitutions requiring public officials to believe in God—in fact, in Maryland, even jurors and witnesses are technically required to believe in God—and now nonbelievers are trying to get rid of such rules, even though they are rarely invoked. "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 You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed," the chairman of the Openly Secular coalition tells the New York Times. "Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed."

Article VI of the US Constitution says no "religious test" should be required for federal office, and in 1961, the Supreme Court ruled that states may not have a "religious test" for public office. Yet the bans remain in those seven states, and activists say they're unconstitutional. So far, though, no politician has made it a goal to get rid of them. Openly Secular plans to lobby legislators in those states (plus Pennsylvania, which has ambiguous wording about religion in its Constitution) to dump the bans—if they can find legislators open to the idea. The latest notable time a ban was enforced was 1992, when an atheist was denied a position as a notary public in South Carolina; he won the case when it went to the state Supreme Court. (More atheists stories.)

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