We know there are a number of states that forbid atheists from running for public office. Those laws are unenforceable, but sometimes, pointing them out is a way to show people what atheists have had to overcome in the past several decades.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers raised awareness of their own state Constitution’s “No atheists in public office” clause and it’s getting people talking:
The law states that “no person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of the state nor be competent to stand trial.”
“It’s insulting, we realize, and we’ve been told by several people it’s not enforceable and that may be the case but to have your name on the constitution as someone who is not competent to sit in a courtroom or public office, it’s rather insulting,” says LeeWood Thomas, with the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.
We had to dig back into newspaper archives more than 80 years to find a case where that law was enforced.
That same provision says Atheists are not allowed to take the stand in court. In 1928, an Arkansas judge refused to allow a nationally known Atheist, Charles Smith, to testify in his own defense.
One of the highlights is that a Christian conservative admitted that the law was a bad one… but not without questioning their “real” intentions:
“Atheists aren’t discriminated against,” says Jerry Cox, a Christian Conservative who heads up the Family Council. “One slight concern that I might have, is there another agenda at work here other than just getting this old law overturned, and if all they are about it getting the old law removed, I don’t really have any issue with them,” he says.
“I’m not an Atheist but freedom of religion is also freedom of no religion,” Cox says.
Again, the law’s not going to change anytime soon, but it’s a vestigial reminder of what used to be.
On a side note, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is hosting a conference in Little Rock this October — just another way to remind the state that atheists are an integral part of the population.
(Thanks to Anne for the link)