Where Atheists Can’t Hold Office

(More information here)

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  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is not correct. In 1961 the U.S. Supreme court ruled in Torasco vs. Watkins that no state could prohibit any otherwise qualified citizen from holding public office, and that no state could impose any religious test for office. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torcaso_v._Watkins

    The states that had those unconstitutional measures in their state constitutions have not removed them simply because they lack the integrity and political courage to do so, but those parts are null and void.

    I do not understand why people continue to perpetuate this misinformation.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Geez Richard, you’re not your usual cute puppy self these days!

      The headline is hyperbole, but I think there’s a valid point that many states “lack the integrity and political courage” to do the right thing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503257844 Adam Evans

      A lot of them know it’s illegal to ban atheists, Richard. The sad part that they haven’t taken off the books. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/matt.dillahunty Matt Dillahunty

      Dead right. Would it be nice to get those antiquated, toothless laws repealed? Sure, but there are LOTS of antiquated, toothless laws on the books…and it actually costs time and money to get them removed – time and money that is better spent fixing broken laws that still have teeth.

      Every few months, some atheist wrongly “discovers” that they can’t run for office and we’re back to debunking this.

      I actually LIKE the fact that these things are still on the books because it clearly shows our history and serves as a way to educate people.

      • stargatedan

        I’m with you that it would never hold up… and that these laws still on the book serve to educate, but how is the public educated if we never draw attention to the laws? In some cases wouldn’t it be a valid illustration to the public to have one of these laws repealed, considering the court case pointed to was back in the 1960′s … just a thought.

        • http://www.facebook.com/matt.dillahunty Matt Dillahunty

          How is the public educated by incorrectly representing the laws?

          The title of this post is false. The information on the ‘more information here’ link is also incorrect. Atheists can hold office in EVERY state, because of Torcaso V. Watkins. We don’t need to have a separate court case for each state and we don’t have to remove dead bits of law from the books.

          These, by the way, aren’t laws that would be repealed, they’re constitutional provisions that would be amended. It is very difficult to get the public to pass an amendment on just about anything. Spending time and money to try to pass an amendment (that probably won’t pass) to do nothing more than ceremoniously clarify a matter that is already settled law seems like an absurd waste of money to me.The real education value here is in these responses to the post – because the post, itself, is misleading. I suppose I only find it frustrating because of how often we have to address the misinformation. :)

          • http://facebook.com/dandemura Dan DeMura

             What I sense is that you’re mostly upset regarding the presentation of the information… so if the article read something along the lines “State Constitutions which still illegally declare that atheists Can’t Hold Office” would it be a better presentation and education for the public.

            The reason I ask is because the education of the public is where I see the value here… and I agree it is not feasible to fight all of these and have these state constitutions rewritten. I agree that’s an unfocused and unnecessary battle… but I do think there is value in bringing these kind of things to the attention of the public, especially when the American public opinion of atheists is less than that of rapists, and when the majority has said they would Not elect an atheist as president.

            The fact is also that there are times when the public isn’t really aware that this IS misinformation and they still view these laws the way they are written as being real and enforceable… evidently in 2009 there was an issue where a group of conservative activists were requesting Cecil Bothwell, an
            atheist be removed from
            office based on a clause in North Carolina’s Constitution that
            disqualifies officeholders “who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”
            http://lubbockonline.com/stories/122009/loc_537584882.shtml

            So while I agree with you there may be misinformation in the presentation and we probably should present the information correctly, I don’t think all of the public has gotten the memo yet regarding the place of atheists in public office, particularly in certain states or communities were there are churches on just about every street corner. So this is an honest question… do you see that part of this, making the public aware of these kind of things, of value if done correctly?

            • westley

              Yes, Torcaso v. Watkins made these requirements dead letters, but that still didn’t stop dead-headed officials in South Carolina from attempting to prevent Herb Silverman from becoming a notary public in 1993, over thirty years AFTER Torcaso, and wasting EIGHT YEARS and $300,000 of the public’s money trying to enforce this unconstitutional provision.

              Even when it’s totally unlawful, some theocrats will STILL try to enforce these barbaric laws.

            • http://www.facebook.com/matt.dillahunty Matt Dillahunty

              Yes. It’d be great for prominent blogs to say:

              “Atheists CAN run for office, despite what you’ve read in your state constitutions…”

              Instead of “Here’s where you can’t run for office”

            • AEPS

              my sentiments exactly, thank you

          • anon now

            I think your attitude is a bit dangerous. The supreme court can
            change its opinion. So all it needs for these clauses to become
            operative again is Mitt Romney winning the presidential election and
            appointing a conservative judge. This is why clauses like this and
            sodomy laws need to be revoked officially.

            • http://www.facebook.com/matt.dillahunty Matt Dillahunty

              This isn’t the sort of law that’s at risk. Fill the court with Scalia-clones and this law stands. The Supreme Court isn’t really fond of reversing itself and certainly not on something as obvious as this.

              • djulien

                Don’t be so sure. The present court reversed 100 years of president by allowing unlimited corporate $ to flood our elections. And if we get more Scalia clones, you know that the court will reverse Roe v Wade…

      • Mark

        DEAD WRONG!  IF THESE LAWS ARE DEAD THEN WHAT HAPPENED IN 1992 Silverman v. Campbell Silverman is an atheist and had earlier run for the post of Governor of South Carolina.[3] His application was rejected after he crossed off the phrase “So help me God”[4] from the oath, as was required by the South Carolina State Constitution.[ 

        THIS WAS 31 YEARS AFTER THIS “DEAD LAW” WAS DONE.    IF YOU WANT TO EDUCATE PEOPLE.  START WITH YOURSELF.

        • Daniel Cannistraro

          For the love of God dude, did you even read the article?

          In 1992, Herb Silverman was a mathematics professor at the College of Charleston, who applied to become a public notary. Silverman is an atheist and had earlier run for the post of Governor of South Carolina.[3] His application was rejected after he crossed off the phrase “So help me God”[4] from the oath, as was required by the South Carolina State Constitution.[5] Silverman filed a lawsuit naming Gov. Carroll Campbell and Secretary of State Jim Miles as defendants.[6]
          After a lower court passed a ruling in favor of Silverman, the state
          appealed to the Supreme Court contending that the case was not about
          religion.[7]

          The South Carolina Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision[2]
          ruled that Article VI, section 2 (“No person who denies the existence
          of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution”) and
          Article XVII, section 4 (“No person who denies the existence of a
          Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution”) of the
          South Carolina Constitution[1] could not be enforced because they violated the First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion and the Article VI, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution banning the use of a religious test for public office.[8]

    • Ronlawhouston

       I think one relevant point that the article makes is that these states still do have laws on the books even though those laws have no effect.  Imagine the outcry if they had laws still on the books preventing African Americans or Jewish people from holding office.  It is something that needs to change, but good luck with that in my home state of Texas!

      • Bob Becker

        There are some deeds that still have restrictive covenants in them regarding race but they have no effect having long ago been declared null by the courts. Just as with the state laws banning atheists from holding office.

        • Fsq

          Wasnt it Texas that still had sodomy laws on the books? And didnt two gay men get arrested in Houston under these laws back in 2002?

          • Erp

             Yes because the Supreme Court didn’t rule those aspect of the sodomy laws null and void until 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas). 

            • Fsq

              Do you know if the men were acquited or convicted?

              This is a great argument to get rid of these laws that people claim wont be enforced if so.

              • Ronlawhouston

                 Acquitted.  Lawrence v. Texas ruled the Texas sodomy rule invalid, but it’s still on the books.  Hey, Texas gave you two Bushes and a Perry.  We’re like a gift that keeps on giving. 

                • Fsq

                  So is herpes, but I am not signing up voluntarily….

          • kaileyverse

             I believe that the sodomy law in Texas still has not been over-turned (at least for same sex couples).

            http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/04/map-has-your-state-banned-sodomy

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

              It hasn’t been repealed, so it’s still on the books, however it is thoroughly unenforceable.

    • Onamission5

      It may not be legal to enforce, but like the town I grew up in that still had a sundown law, having something so discriminatory on the law books– enforceable or not– does seem to give certain types of people permission to single out others for ill deeds and/or contempt.

      Better I think to get this shit out of our state laws and be done with it.

      • Fsq

        New york State has a law on the books that prohibits any athletic competition that lasts more thafour hours, or in the event it is a bicycling race, no longer than twenty miles….yet, Lake Placid still hosts an Ironman Triathlon each year. It would cost the state more to get the idiotic law removed rather than just ignore it.

  • Nickminer82

    They keep leaving North Carolina off these maps. 

    • Bandomac

      We are trying to forget they exist.

  • Eperce

    This is not correct per se, Pennsylvania does not forbid an Atheist from holding office. 

    • Rich Lane

      True, it does not.  However, it does offer constitutional protection for religious type that it does NOT give to atheists.   You could interpret that to mean it was intended to protect the religious on a state level, but if a community decided to say it wouldn’t allow atheists to run for office, the State is okay with that.

      I live here.

  • Onamission5

    It’s still in the NC state constitution, too, so they missed one.

    • http://tch3.com C High

      Yep. Article 6 section 8.

  • Annie

    I like the key’s explanation of the green states.  OK, I don’t like it, but that’s what makes this funny.

  • Erp

    I would point to a difference between state laws and state constitutions.  The latter are difficult to amend and why bother if it is null due to a US Supreme court ruling (now if they rewrite their constitution and still leave it in that is a different matter).    None of the states in question have rewritten their constitutions since 1961 (might be interesting to know what the previous constitutions of Louisiana and North Carolina had since they were rewritten since). 

    • Stev84

      They aren’t difficult to amend. Usually all it takes a simple majority

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    To everyone who cites the Torcaso decision as a reason to claim the headline is wrong: You’re correct, but only in the very strictest sense. Yes, those anti-atheist provisions are unenforceable … but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people who still believe them to be in effect. So long as they’re perceived to be in effect, by enough voters, then they basically ARE in effect. Voters who think someone can’t hold office, aren’t going to vote for him/her … even if they are wrong about that.

    And even if an atheist does get elected, it’s possible for angry theists to litigate over the matter. This has been tried, for example, in the case of Cecil Bothwell who was elected to municipal office in North Carolina. Even folks who are aware of Torcaso may think they can get it overturned. And let’s be honest, there are enough Christocrats on the Supreme Court to make that happen, if they wished it to and if the case were to reach them.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mattand08 Matt Andrews

      I don’t think that even the current conservative court would overturn Torasco, if  for no other reason that many of them claim to be Originalists. The Constitution clearly states there’s no religious test to hold office.

      That doesn’t mean that someone like Scalia wouldn’t go out of his way to insult atheists while rendering a decision upholding Torasco.

    • Isilzha

      It’s really simple. You bring two sides together. They fight. A lot of them
      die, but those who survive are stronger, smarter and better.  It’s like knocking over an ant-hill. Every new generation gets stronger,
      the ant-hill gets redesigned, made better.

      (Also–The Corps is mother.  The Corps is father.)

  • Raysofdecay

    Thank GOD I live in Pa! Atheism is not a religion and therefore is not protected by the 1st amendment!

    • http://twitter.com/Kartos Heather

      You’re not required to have a religion to have the freedom from living in a Theocracy. Way to miss the point of freedom of religion.

  • Cathy Holzinger

    All states already have amendments to each of the constitutions.

  • Anna for Green Gables

    SO WRONG

  • Lazlo Mortimer

    “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    Article Six of the United States Constitution


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