Atheists Seek to End Ban on Secularists Holding Public Office in Seven States

Mississippi Capitol Building Credit Chuck KellyA number of atheist organizations are seeking to remove long-standing language from seven state Constitutions that bans secularists from holding public office.

The mandates were all written within 100 years following the nation’s founding, and outline that as a prerequisite for serving in government, the individual must believe in God.

“[N]o 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,” the Constitution of Maryland reads.

“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,” the Tennessee Constitution outlines.

“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,” the Constitution of Texas mandates.

Some states ban residents from also serving on juries if they deny God.

“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,” the Arkansas Constitution declares.

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Other states that ban atheists from serving in government positions include Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Texas.

Pennsylvania’s Constitution has similar language, but is not seen by some as an outright ban on secularists.

“No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth,” it reads.

In light of the historical bans, several atheist and church-state separation groups are seeking to remove the language, which they view as being “outdated provisions from a more bigoted time.”

“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would be a no-brainer,” Todd Steiffel of the Openly Secular Coalition, which is leading the effort to have the bans repealed, told reporters. “You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed.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?”

“If these affected Jews, Catholics, Mormons, they would have been removed long ago,” Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented to VICE News. “Atheists are still pretty unpopular in the US. They scrap the bottom along with Muslims here.”

While the bans generally have not been enforced in decades, in 2009, writer Cecil Bothwell was eventually allowed to serve on the Asheville, North Carolina City Council after some spoke out against his election because of the state’s constitutional requirements.

Most atheists argue that the founding of the nation was secular, but some may see the historical constitutional mandates as evidence otherwise.

“[L]et us not forget the religious character of our origin,” American statesman Daniel Webster declared during his famous “Plymouth Oration” in 1820. “Our fathers were brought hither for their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political or literary.”

Photo: Chuck Kelly


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  • James Grimes

    The Useless want to spread their influence in all areas of government. This is dangerous.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      No, we want to uphold the Constitution.

      • Neiman

        No, you only want to uphold the parts you agree with and as you do not agree with the first clause,the second part of the 1st Amendment, you do not want to uphold it at al. It is to wit, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, . . .”

        First please make note that is says Congress and thereby the Federal Government may pass no laws or regulations or policies that in the slightest manner infringe of the right of religious expression, which was not a limited right. The national government is commanded not to pass any laws in that regard. Religious expression includes speech, which directly follows and absent a threat to life, the freedom to practice one’s faith at work, play or in any public place. Further, these people of faith are not denied the right to elect people sharing their faith or in influencing laws that reflect that faith and the associated moral values.

        • dark477

          You can do all those thing you just can’t force people to take part.

        • Rick

          Apparently you never heard of the 14th Amendment.

          • Neiman

            The 14th Amendment cannot, according to the 1st Amendment, abridge the rights enumerated therein.

          • Rick

            Ok Einstein. Have you even read any part of the Constitution other than what you quoted above? The14th Amendment applies portions of the Bill of Rights to state governments, including the Establishment Clause. Get it now?

          • Neiman

            Is this what you are talking about? ” No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

            Where does it approve of the 1st Amendment being itself amended and/or the full rights therein denied to people of faith in the expression of their religious beliefs? That is the point, the second part of the first clause of the 1st Amendment applies to the states as well and they cannot infringe upon the rights therein enumerated.

          • Rick

            Ugh. The 14th Amendment due process clause has been interpreted as incorporating the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment against the states. States cannot make laws (and that includes government officials taking actions) that reflect the establishment of religion. Teaching religion in public schools, or using public school facilities to promote a religious agenda are prohibited.

          • Neiman

            Ah, you are talking about he first part of the first clause of the 1st Amendment. The courts are wrong! Until 1962 that had never been the interpretation and it followed the lie of “separation of Church and state,” by KKK grand dragon Justice Hugo Black, the accessory to that pig FDR and his Court packing scheme, this is pure left wing anti-Christian abuse of the 1st Amendment.

        • Ambulance Chaser

          That’s nice. Completely irrelevant but nice.

          The Constitution also says that no religious test may be imposed for the holding of public office, which is really the only thing at issue here. And by the Incorporation Doctrine under the 14th Amendment, and the Supremacy Clause, it’s illegal for states to imposee more regulation than that

          • Fundisi

            If it is a State elected office, under States rights, they have a right to establish their own minimum requirements for public office. However, in none of these states is it enforced.

      • James Grimes

        And so, a member of The Useless speaks. Is anyone interested?

        • dark477

          Those who care about freedom and the Constitution do.

        • Spoob

          In what sense are they “useless”?

    • Spoob

      I think it is far more important to keep right wing zealots and fundamentalist wing nuts the hell out of government. There is, however, no logical reason to want to keep atheists out, as they think with their minds and don’t enforce crazed ideologies based on faith, something which after all cannot be proven.

      • James Grimes

        You think? Who cares?

        • Rick

          You sound so Christ-like. You should be proud of yourself.

          • Spoob

            Search for James Grimes anywhere on this forum. Some of the things he says will leave your mouth hanging open.

          • James Grimes

            Thank you. Our Lord had no tolerance for the God-less. I have no tolerance for them either.

        • Spoob

          Likely not a bunch of bigots who want to legislate their own morality despite the fact that the rest of us disagree with them, but I think I am still entitled to an opinion.

      • Luke Hudson

        Just like all scientific theories you people worship. Even your god Darwin himself said that if anyone can disprove him, that he’d prefer the world’s knowledge to be true, unlike the idiots who teach unobserved macroevolution as fact more religiously than they teach that rocks exist. You look at your dusty bones and rocks until YOU become a fossil. Reality’s reality, you’re carbon dating and star gazing doesn’t make a lie any more true. Read Ecclesiastes, that’s what your life is.

        • dark477

          Darwin was a scientist not a god. and Evolution is an observable fact, just because you’re too stupid to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t

          • James Grimes

            First of all, Luke is not stupid. Your willingness to use name-calling reflects your stupidity and rudeness. Darwin has become a god to many of The Useless.

          • dark477

            No he hasn’t. he is consider on par with Einstein and Newton but he is still just a man. And any one that has such a dismiss attitude toward science clearly has an IQ in the single digits. I also don’t think someone who refers to atheist as “useless” should be telling me about rudeness.

          • James Grimes

            You were rude. Just to let you know… I have no tolerance for Atheists’ opinions nor do I find their presence on this site any way significant or meaningful. In other words, don’t waste your time.

          • MattFCharlestonSC

            The father of computer science, Alan Turing, was an atheist and a homosexual. I see you’ve found some use for a computer.

          • James Grimes

            The computer industry is full of godless individuals. My computer was sold to me by a dear brother in the Lord. Now you can make something of that.

          • MattFCharlestonSC

            Not saying that the guy who sold you your computer isn’t a great person. You refer to (i’m assuming) Atheists as “the Useless” while deriving uses from the invention of an Atheist.

          • James Grimes

            OK

        • Spoob

          Yes of course, let’s go with the words of bronze age goat herders rather than scientific experts. Great idea.

        • James Grimes

          Excellent rebuttal. Thanks for taking the time to address these Atheists. They have no clue.

      • bowie1

        Why should anybody care about atheists such as yourself, when you want to ban religion in public office? If that is your attitude perhaps your critics might tell you to get lost! Atheists are not the only citizens that have rights – so do people of faith.

        • Spoob

          I am not an atheist. I just don’t like the idea of a particular radical brand of Christians deciding that they should get their way and everyone else can go to hell.

    • Rick

      The “Useless” have spread their influence, as evidenced by the fact that these laws are or ever were on the books.

    • James Grimes

      Here’s the gospel according to Spoob and probably the ultimate goal of all Atheists, “I think it is far more important to keep right wing zealots and fundamentalist wing nuts the hell out of government.” These are the same people who established this country! His philosophy stinks.

  • DKeane123

    On the Daniel Webster quote: While I agree that our original settlers (excluding the existing residents of the time – unfortunately) arrived here to flee religious persecution back in Europe, those same people immediately started persecuting the new minority religions they found to be heretical. So Daniel Webster is wrong.

    Actions by Anglicans against Unitarians and Catholics, forced people like Jefferson in places like Virginia and eventually in the Constitution to outline religious freedoms, to avoid the same tyranny of the majority they had fled in the first place.

  • Neiman

    As for all intent and purposes our national/state religion is atheism and liberals have insisted we are a secular/humanist nation, I suppose these anti-Christs will prevail. Not that they are prevented from holding office now, but they need to wipe out the Christian faith entirely if they are going to fully establish their socialist utopia in America.

  • http://www.washingtondcevangelists.com Washington DC Evangelists

    re: “our origin” It’s a pagan origin, not Christian. Just look at all the pagan gods on all of the major government buildings in DC for example, nothing Christian there, all pagan, free mason, the occult, and also a little Roman Catholic too. Why don’t the atheists start working getting the pagan gods off the government buildings, the Supreme Court Building or the U.S. Capitol Building for example.

    • Luke Hudson

      Do you know what Roman Catholics are? I feel that your unawareness that Catholicism is a Christian denomination immediately discredits any of your statements, however, your other statements about government buildings and their art is true only because we replicated Greco-Roman art and architecture as a purely aesthetic touch. Of you honestly think that anyone in America believed in the Roman Parthenon, you truely have no idea about anything. The United States was founded by religiously persecuted people -Christians- , probably 95% of citizens were Christians, and 99.9% were deists, and even now somewhere around 80% of citizens are Christians. Atheists are the vast minority and always will be. But for some reason, most of them are more like zealots than Christians they persecute, and pretty much all atheists have a superiority complex along with chihuahua syndrome. There are exceptions, however, but certainly no politicians are tolerant.

      • dark477

        We don’t persecute. We expect christens to follow the law same as us.

      • Gary

        Deists are not Christians. The citizens have never been 95% Christians. And 80% of the citizens now are not Christians. 8% would be much closer to the truth.

      • pax2u

        poor Gary says that he is a Baptist, but he condemns the Great American, Great Christian, and Great Baptist Billy Graham, and at the same time supports the hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church of Fred Phelps
        Gary has that special Christian identifier decoder ring that tells only him who is a TRUE Christian, I am really surprised that he puts the number at 8% for angry Gary that is very generous, his idea of Heaven is very small, just enough room for him and the rest of his Klan

    • Gary

      Because they don’t object to the paganism. They only object to Christianity. Satan only objects to Christianity because he knows it is the only truthful religion.

  • bowie1

    Seems hypocritical for them to want to end the ban on atheists holding public office, when they want also to ban religion in public office.

    • DKeane123

      That would be a great comment if any of it were true.

  • James Grimes

    For my fellow Christians who participate on this forum, here are some verses to keep in mind:
    Colossians 3:23-25 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

  • MattFCharlestonSC

    They could rename this article “Conservative Christians Afraid They Will Lose Stranglehold on Political Power in 7 States.” These archaic laws can’t possibly be constitutional/enforced.

  • Gary

    Whether it is a law or not, I would never vote for an atheist, or a non-Christian. That is why it is so hard to find candidates to vote for.

    • Ambulance Chaser

      Which is your right. I think it’s stupid but whatever. I wouldn’t try to take away your right to choose who you vote for.