Atheists Are Still Technically Not Allowed To Hold Public Office In Eight States

There are currently eight states in the United States that restrict atheists from holding public office, according to the Washington Post. This is despite the fact that the U.S. constitution itself affirms that religious tests cannot be required to hold public office.

These states, mostly located in the south, still have it in their local constitutions that atheists – or those who do not believe in God or a higher being – are technically not allowed to hold or run for public office. These provisions remain in their books, even though they cannot be enforced, as per a 1961 supreme court ruling.

In Mississippi, atheists are not allowed to hold any public office, according to article 14, section 265:

“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.”

In North Carolina, as stated on article IV, section 8.

“The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

In South Carolina, as stated in article XVII, section 4:

“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”

Tennessee’s constitution also shares the same tune and prohibits atheists from holding any public office. Article IX, section 2 states:

“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”

They also have a ban on religious ministers from holding any public office but for seemingly different reasons. Ministers are not allowed to hold seats in either House of the Legislature, so as not to distract them from their divine activities. In the state’s own words: they “ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions.”

Arkansas not only shuns atheists from holding public office, they also don’t want them testifying in their courts. Article 19, section 1 says:

“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.”

In Maryland and Texas, the provision that no religious test shall be required to hold any public office is indicated in their local constitutions, as long as the person interested in said public office does believe in a type of higher being. The situation is similar in Pennsylvania, where the constitution protects the right of anyone who believes in God or a higher being to run for public office.

Although these provisions are technically unenforceable, they accurately portray the current perception of the general American public towards atheists. In a 2012 Gallup Poll, it was discovered that as much as 43 percent of Americans would not vote for a candidate who is openly atheist.

[Image from Marty Stone]

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