Seven states still officially ban atheists from holding public office

The Los Angeles Times editorial was today’s good news; now here’s the bad, although you might construe it as getting better. According to Saturday’s New York Times, seven U.S. states still have laws on the books prohibiting atheists from holding public office. The Friendly Atheist has listed them all, along with the relevant statues, and I’ll just reproduce two laws from his piece (the states, by the way, are Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—not a random geographic sample!). The two below are from Hemant; I believe the emphasis is his:

South Carolina: Article 17, Section 4:

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

and this one (it’s great; look at the wording)

Texas: Article 1, Section 4:

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.

It’s okay to have diverse “religious sentiments,” so long as you believe in a god!

According to the Times, these statues have been unconstitutional since they were declared so by the Supreme Court in 1961, adjudicating a case in which Maryland denied an atheist a position as notary public.

The bans have rarely been used since then, although Herb Silverman overcame one when he too was refused status as a notary public in South Carolina in 1997. It would be a brave state court that would try to buck the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Times article’s point is reporting that secularists are trying to get these anti-atheist laws taken off the books:

Todd Stiefel, the chairman and primary funder of the Openly Secular coalition, said: “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 You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?”

We’re different, of course, because it’s okay to hate atheists, not so much to hate African-Americans, women, or members of any religion. Here are the sad facts:

. . . a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center this year showing that nearly half of Americans would disapprove if a family member married an atheist.

Pew also found that 53 percent of Americans polled in April said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate they knew was an atheist. Being an atheist was found to be the least desirable trait a candidate could have — worse than having cheated on a spouse or used marijuana.

It’s unthinkable that a poll of the citizens of any Western European country would give such results, and I doubt if any of those nations have anti-atheist statutes (correct me if I’m wrong).

The Openlly Secular Coalition is now lobbying legislators in those seven states to overturn the unenforceable atheist bans, and that’s really a no-brainer. But I predict an uphill battle. Even if those laws can’t be implemented, many of the faithful still like to see them there, just as a codification of the opprobrium they feel toward the godless. Indeed, one member of the Maryland legislature made this explicit:

Christopher B. Shank, the Republican minority whip in the Maryland Senate, said that while he believed in pluralism, “I think what they want is an affirmation that the people of the state of Maryland don’t care about the Christian faith, and that is a little offensive.”

“They”, of course, are the secularists trying to get rid of unconstitutional laws.  To construe that as trying to get the citizens of Maryland to repudiate Christianity is ridiculous. (Of course I’d be glad if they did, but the point is to keep that church/state wall up.) And really, how can anybody justify keeping those laws on the books?


  1. Curt Nelson
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I think if I wanted to run for office in Texas I’d claim Elvis as my supreme being, if it came to that.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I can think of a few directions I might go.

      Most likely, I’d explicitly reject the notion that any being could even hypothetically be considered “supreme.”

      I might claim the Sun and Baihu as supreme beings.

      I might go for Ms. Ross, Ms. Wilson, and Ms. Ballard as supreme beings, or perhaps the SCOTUS.

      I might declare the last universal common ancestor as the supreme being.

      I might even pose as the supreme being, myself — and challenge the State to come up with a better alternative.

      But, again, most likely, I’d simply tell them to stop playing these silly childish games pretending that Superman really is really real and he likes being applauded for all the presents he brings the good little boys and girls in Gotham City.


      • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        You show your ignorance of scripture. Superman brings presents to the good little children of Metropolis.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          Yeah Ben is such a heretic! Batman brings presents to the kids in Gotham!

          • Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            Wait — I thought Beowulf was responsible for the Metropolis kids, and Batman has the Nazareth district…? And I was pretty sure about Superman and Gotham; that’s where Kenny G, Superman’s altar eggo, writes musical revues for the Daisy Planner.

            Not that I could ever keep any of this straight….


      • Diane G.
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        “I might even pose as the supreme being, myself — and challenge the State to come up with a better alternative.”

        That cracked me up! Still chuckling…

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I think I’d take a page out of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods & say I worshipped Media.

  2. Cephus
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    You have to remember that these laws on the books have no bearing on anything, they simply cannot be removed until challenged in a court of law and they cannot be challenged until they are applied. It’s the same as having laws requiring men with lanterns to run in front of cars. They’re still on the books but they’re never going to be applied. Atheists can run for office freely in any of these states.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      “they simply cannot be removed until challenged in a court of law ”

      Of course they can. They can be repealed by the state legislature.

      As for being challenged, they already have been.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Nope. They can also be removed by a referendum to have a constitutional convention, AS IT STATES IN THE WA PO ARTICLE.

      • Cephus
        Posted December 9, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        I am certainly hoping the legislature has better things to do with their time than go through the thousands upon thousands of laws on the books and pick out which ones are no longer applicable. The legislature isn’t going to do that and I don’t blame them, there’s really no pressing need because nobody in any of those states is actually being restricted from running from office.

    • Roan Ridgeway
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Whether meaningful or not, enforceable or not, these laws should never have been enacted because of their unconstitutionality.

      The Texas statue is the most outrageous because, it is a contradictory sentence and substantial evidence that the politicians who crafted it were not competent to be legislators.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        To me it doesn’t matter whether it’s enforceable or not – it’s what having that law shows about the attitude of people in those states. Imo it’s simply not acceptable that these laws even exist. I’ve tw**ted about them since I joined Twi**er.

        It’s a bit like racist jokes – they betray an attitude, and it’s an attitude that we can do without.

      • Posted December 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Texas is no stranger to contradictory nonsense wording. Consider the 2005 amendment to the Texas constitution which ostensibly bans gay marriage:

        (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.

        (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

        A straight (ha!) reading of the above would lead you to think that it primarily bans heterosexual marriage, rather than gay marriage. Good luck making such an argument in court though.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          That’s incredible! How’d these people get through middle school, let alone law school? (Well,there’re probably not so many lawyer congresspeople at the state level.)

          • Posted December 9, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

            To my ceaseless frustration & embarrassment–as a native Texan and a graduate of a law school in Texas–it was probably IN law school where many of these people learned to write such contradictory, “forked-tongued” statues. Sigh (hangs head), the spirit of this once-proud State has been corrupted by self-serving conservative pundits. It was not always thus, and there remain many of us here who will see to it that the true definition of what it means to possess the indomitable spirit of an intrepid, independent Texan, will be restored. The Bushes aren’t natural to our soil. They and their ilk are to us like choke-weed transplants. We shall uproot, and toss them out, bye and bye.

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 9, 2014 at 1:43 am | Permalink

              I lived in Austin for a couple of years in the late seventies. I found a lot to love about Texas. 🙂

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                I’ve heard good things about Austin.

              • Kirth Gersen
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

                Sadly, Austin was at its peak in the late ’70s. Now it’s fantastically overcrowded with hipster kids all trying to act “weird” in exactly identical ways.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, that was at the height of outlaw music and Molly Ivins was going strong (though temporarily in NY). Molly was so good at lampooning the guvmint while never faltering in her love of TX.

                When I was there, Austin was already starting to grow exponentially…I guess I’ll just have to be happy with my memories.

            • Filippo
              Posted December 9, 2014 at 3:36 am | Permalink

              While several state capitol buildings, including that of Texas, are taller than the U.S. capitol building (Louisiana is the tallest, per The Orlando Sentinel), do I correctly recall reading that there is a Texas law to the effect that that height differential will always remain? I’ve searched a bit, haven’t found it. Quite sure I haven’t dreamed it.

              Such a law or the desire for such a law does not reek of humility.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps you’re thinking of the law (don’t know if it’s still on the books) stating that no building in downtown Austin may be higher than the capitol.

                Rather a nice contrast to those cities in which the capitol building has been smothered by sky scrapers.

              • Filippo
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                “Perhaps you’re thinking of the law (don’t know if it’s still on the books) stating that no building in downtown Austin may be higher than the capitol.”

                That may be true. But I don’t know that I would have taken any particular notice of or even remembered that (not wanting surrounding commercial or other buildings as tall or taller than the capitol), as compared with a (Republic of) Texanesque preoccupation with someone not “messin’ with Texas,” including the national capitol not being at least any taller than the capitol in Austin. I think my recollection accurate.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                I wouldn’t be surprised. 🙂

  3. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s unthinkable that a poll of the citizens of any Western European country would give such results, and I doubt if any of those nations have anti-atheist statutes (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Well, we had one right-wing politician from thw third-largest party say that although we have freedom of religion, we do not have equality of religion and that Denmark is a Christian nation.

    Technically she’s right and frankly it’s embarrasing that most people didn’t seem to mind it staying that way.

    It’s the same with the monarchy.

    Old habits die hard.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      “Denmark is a Christian nation”

      They risk the wrath of Nerthus!

      What about the Bog People? Or the Mound People?

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        It was probably the good Christan Danes who strangled and embogged/emmounded them.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        Who? 🙂

  4. eric
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Having just mentioned Maryland’s constitutional issue (reproduced below, for everyone’s information) in another thread, I have to say that while I would be fine with an amendment that repealed it, I would not be fine with any sort of legislative act that that actually removed the text from the constitution. Why? Because people have a short memory and tend to whitewash history. If it isn’t in there, they will pretend it never happened or say it never happened.

    Maryland is a good example. While the 1876 constitution is online and very easy to access and quote, the earlier constitutions (there have been four) I could only find in unsearchable pdf form. Its really hard for an amateur (well, me) to figure out whether the 1876 constitution was simply a continuation of previous bigotry, a reduction of much larger earlier bigotry, or even an increase in theological bigotry over more secular, earlier constitutions. I don’t want that sort of information loss to occur in these more modern constitutions. If the (state) adopters were bigots, best to leave it in writing so we can all see it.

    Apply an old rule of thumb that my professors used to teach when it came to keeping ones’ lab books: line it out so it’s still readable. Do not cover it in black ink. At some later point in the experiment, you may need to go back and look at the mistakes you made. The same advice (or its metaphorical equivalent) is just as good for history and law, IMO.

    Anyway, here’s Maryland’s (I had it handy from a post on a previous thread of Jerry’s):

    Art. 36. That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent, or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain, any place of worship, or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

    From Maryland’s Declaration of rights, adopted in 1876.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s a good point in trying not to forget mistakes of the past, but it’s a double-edged sword.

      Those old words can quickly be elevated to imply approval of heinous acts and a loss of knowledge regarding context could be catastrophical.

      I much prefer such laws to be archived and used as educational examples instead.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I agree. We must preserve this knowledge.

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      If the (state) adopters were bigots, best to leave it in writing so we can all see it

      We are using the words “remove” and “repeal” interchangeably here. Laws are not literally scratched out of the code. There are some format variations among the states, but amending statutes are added and there are several different ways that statutes are cross-referenced with past version, with one another and also with related court decisions and rulings.

      I don’t know all the different ways states might allow constitutional amendments versus requiring a constitutional convention to make changes. With an amendment process (as with the 3/5 compromise you note elsewhere), superseded articles remain in the constitution.

      But if there is a re-drafting, by constitutional convention or other mechanism (as Louisiana has done eleven times in 200 years), the whole document may be thrown out and rewritten from scratch. It’s not really a matter of whether we on the outside are “fine” with that happening or not: the delegates can do as they please, subject to ratification by the legislature and then by election.

      • eric
        Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Constitutional changes may be the worst example (and yeah, I admit I was one of the ones who brought them up) because you’re right – short of a total rewrite, we always do what I suggest, and it would be straw man logic for me to imply that (example) the state of Maryland would amend their constitution to strike that Article from the Declaration of Rights. Because they would probably never do that, even if they could, which is debatable.

        However, I think its a real concern at the legal level lower than constitutions: regular statutory laws. IANAL but AIUI, figuratively removing a “normal” law from the books can literally mean removing it; ensuring that future publications of the codes of law don’t include it. I am not sure that is a good idea when we are talking about historical racism and other discriminatory practices, because we lose sight of what mistakes we have done in the past. One, five, or ten years later you’ll get some conservative yahoo arguing that no special protections or rights are needed to protect minorities because, hey lookit the code, even before we had these regulations minorities were not singled out for bad treatment. You’ve got people like David Barton trying to revise history now, even when we have written documentation that he’s wrong: that problem would only get massively worse if the written documentation of past bad conduct goes away.

        OTOH I could also make the argument the other way: there is a risk that a currently “turned off” dicriminatory statute could “turn on” if the federal ruling currently ruling it unconstitutional gets overturned. So best to get rid of them now, before that happens.

        Overall, I’m not going to lose sleep over either approach being taken, but my personal preference is probably for keeping past history easily accessible. That’s because I think the threat of political revisionism is higher/more probable than the threat of revocation or drastic reinterpretation of things like the 14th amendment.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I hope we are seeing the beginning of a change like we did in the 90s with the beginnings of acceptance of LGBT. As with LGBT then and atheists now, history will reveal the bigots and their future selves will be ashamed.

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      First they ignore you,
      Then they laugh at you,
      Then they fight you,
      Then you win,
      Then they say they were always on your side.

  6. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    And what sane atheist would run for office in those states. Sure they could run all day but the facts are – they could never be elected. You could not run for president of the United States as an Atheist and come close to election.

    Anyway, I’m disappointed – Alabama must be slipping. They have almost tied with Mississippi as the most religious.

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      “they could never be elected. ”

      Nor could a black man be elected president in the US. Oh, wait…

      Put the right atheist up there espousing the right political doctrine and running against the right opponent, he could surely get elected.

      • Randy Schenck
        Posted December 9, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Please Greg, tell us what the platform would be for an Atheist to gain the Presidency in this country.

        And since a Black person was elected president once in 200 plus years you must see racism as cured.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Fine. I don’t want to be a public official in any of those states, anyway! 😡

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I’m in the boat Jack, cast off.

  8. Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Joan Denoo and commented:
    The organ of reason and critical thinking is the brain, not the faith in a god that pre-dates writing. Goat herders followed beliefs of their fore-fathers and -mothers. That is not reason to believe as they did. Atheists are entitled to political representation as are people of other traditions.

  9. Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    “But I predict an uphill battle. ”

    Of course. Why would legislators want to go on record as defending atheism? It’s a no-win issue for any of them.

    • eric
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      It would be an uphill battle even for legislators who would go on record. Because in most states, “cleaning up” judicially invalidated laws is not considered a priority or even a worthwhile act.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        But reframed as bigotry, it might gain some priority.

      • Posted December 9, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

        in most states, “cleaning up” judicially invalidated laws is not considered a priority or even a worthwhile act

        True, as far as it goes, but there is a lot more to it. Legislators’ priority is political optics, primarily to keep their owners (PACs, big donors, corporations, future employers) happy and secondarily to keep the folks who vote for them from deserting. If repealing a law, unconstitutional or otherwise, looks good or benefits their owners, they will repeal that law. If not repealing a law would be more pleasing to their owners and voters than repealing it would, then that law will not be repealed.

  10. Gordon Hill
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I suspect there are many atheists holding elected office in these states. Are any states enforcing the laws?

    According to that stellar ‘fair and balanced’ news network, they are unenforceable

    There are thousands of city, county, state and Federal statutes on the books that are no longer enforced. Don’t know if it is still on the books, but Missouri used to have a law that required everyone driving a car to be preceded by a rider on horseback ringing a bell shouting, “Clear the way.”

    Here are a few crazy laws still on the books

    If they aren’t enforced, what’s the problem?

    • Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Are any of the other “crazy laws” meant to take away the civil rights of an entire class of people? The laws at the link you shared place burdens on people or fine them for doing things we don’t care about any more, but they hardly compare in severity to the laws in this post.

      If banning people from holding office is not offensive enough to demand it be removed, at what point does an “unenforced” law become so offensive its continued existence is be a problem?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink


      • Gordon Hill
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        There are still laws on the books that discriminate against particular groups… blue laws… laws against adultery… laws against being gay or lesbian… on the books, unenforced. If it’s a problems, all one need do is rally agroup to repeal the unenforced law which nobody knows about until someone makes an issue of it.

      • eric
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        Well the 3/5 compromise still shows up in the US constitution, it’s just superseded by amendment.

        As I noted above, I agree with this approach and would disagree with any attempt to actually remove or strike the wording (see my previous post for why).

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        There are twelve states with anti-sodomy laws still on the books.

        I’m not sure if folks who engage in anal or oral sex are a class of people, but since it is a choice, as is atheism, there are probably more people affected.

    • tomh
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Kennesaw, Georgia, still has on its books a law passed in 1982 that, “every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore.”

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Is it enforced?

        • tomh
          Posted December 8, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          Well, no one has ever been arrested for it. The ACLU challenged it after it was passed, and they added an exemption for anyone who had a “conscientious objection” to it, religious or otherwise, which apparently allowed it to pass Constitutional muster. The original law only allowed an exemption for religious reasons. But it remains on the books.

          • Gordon Hill
            Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, There are many laws and ordinances which are unenforceable. Somebody read the Supreme court decision. Still, conscientious objector and atheist are mutually exclusive.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

              “Still, conscientious objector and atheist are mutually exclusive.”

              Huh? That don’t make logical sense, to me.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

                It’s a choice. You can be a conscious objector as theist or atheist and not as either as well. One does not include the other absolutely. It’s a choice of one’s will.

            • Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink

              conscientious objector and atheist are mutually exclusive

              Not so. U.S. v. Seeger,380 U.S. 163 (March, 1965) – The Supreme Court ruled that the exemption from the military draft for conscientious objectors could not be reserved only for religious objectors. Any C.O. has to make a showing that their objection is to all war and not just the current conflict (conflict specific C.O.’s may still be drafted but are assigned non-combat roles). A non-religious C.O. need only show their objection is as sincere and deeply held as a religious C.O.’s would be.

              There are many laws and ordinances which are unenforceable

              Yes, and outdated laws that aren’t enforced. Fine. States do in fact repeal laws which are unconstitutional all the time. They also leave unconstitutional laws in place, frequently as a protest against the people affected by the law or against federal authority.

              The Times article notes that as recently as 2009 opponents of an atheist city councilman in North Carolina threatened to sue to nullify his election based on the state’s “unenforceable” law, but they dropped it. In 1997, an atheist man in South Carolina had to go all the way to the State Supreme Court to fight for his right to be a notary public, and he prevailed.

              Here’s the thing: with the current U.S. Supreme Court there is no reason to expect the theocratic conservative bloc will stick to precedent where it concerns church-state issues. Five justices held that for-profit corporations have a right to religious freedom. They held that a town council that begins its sessions with Christian prayers is not acting unconstitutionally. Three sitting justices argued a few years ago that an eight-foot-tall cross erected on federal land to honor American soldiers was a generic symbol, not a Christian one! Should a jurisdiction attempt to enforce one of these so-called unenforceable laws, and were the case to make it to SCOTUS, all bets are off. There is a high probability they are about to strike down the ACA over a laughable technicality in the wording – I have every reason to suspect that any “unenforceable” law might become the toehold for mischief by right wingers.

              all one need do is rally agroup to repeal the unenforced law


              which nobody knows about until someone makes an issue of it

              So? Obscurity is not the issue, it’s whether or not the law has been repealed and who is defamed or could potentially be harmed by its existence. Unenforced laws are also called “symbolic” laws and are often just that, a statement of sentiment. I’d say it’s a perfectly legitimate democratic practice to demand official repeal of an unconstitutional symbolic law – more legitimate, in fact, than leaving the law in place.

              But for the reasons I mention above, I do think the stakes here are more than symbolic.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

                That’s the legal situation, but it does not posit that all conscious objectors are atheists or vice versa which is my point.

                There are both in both.

              • Posted December 9, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                Thanks for clarifying – I misunderstood “mutually exclusive.” Sounded like you were saying an atheist cannot be a CO, which confused me in terms of both epistemological and legal status. Clears that up!

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                You are welcome. It is my burden for having taken two six hundred level statistics courses.

                BTW, a good question is whether love and marriage are mutually exclusive.

              • Posted December 9, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                It depends. If you define “love” as a deep emotional connectedness enhanced by mutual romantic, sexual attraction, then no. If, on the other hand you define “love” as two equals partnering for meaningful companionship and working together for shared goals such as raising children together to be happy, well-adjusted adults, then, again, no.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been married for fifty seven years, fifty eight in five weeks, and believe love and marriage can be mutually inclusive, but not necessarily.

      • Henry Fitzgerald
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        Did I read that correctly – 1982? You didn’t mean 1892 or something like that?

        • tomh
          Posted December 8, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

          It was 1982. The modern anti-handgun movement really began in 1981 after the shooting of Reagan and two others, and a suburb of Chicago was the first town to ban the ownership, sale and possession of handguns. Cobb County, GA, whose US Rep. happened to be chairman of the John Birch Society and a heavy-duty NRA supporter, wanted to make a statement. The City Council of Kennesaw, whose mayor was also a John Bircher, unanimously passed this ordinance.

  11. Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    You’re right about these sorts of statutes not now being possible in Western Europe and much of Eastern Europe too. It would fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights to which all EU member states are signatories as well as some non-member states.

    Given that Atheists are in the majority or nearing a majority now in several European states, I would think it would be politically impossible even without the ECHR.

    • W.Benson
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      The following is (cut and paste) from a 2012 report in Russia Today:

      In Switzerland, a teacher was fired from his job in 2010 after raising concerns over the state’s promotion of Catholicism in public schools. “[The teacher] was told he was fired for removing the crucifix from the classrooms in the public school at which he taught,” the report said.

      Every year, British children are turned away from local state-funded schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

      Polish musician Dorota Rabczewska was fined $1,450 for ‘offending religious feelings’ when she said in a 2012 interview that the Bible is full of “unbelievable tales.”

      Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini called in 2010 for “Muslims, Jews and Christians to unite to fight the ‘threat’ that he claims atheism poses to society.” [end quote

      The Russian courts put two Pussy Riot members in jail for, as I understand it, invading a church and dancing on the altar. It was less anti-religious speech than poking a bear with a short stick.

      Do European laws or government practices bar atheists from elected office or public service? It wouldn’t surprise me.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      There are plenty of EU countries that still have these sorts of laws on their books. For example Ireland still requires a religious oath for a number of political and judicial offices.

      There is nothing preventing an atheist from lying of course, but that rather undermines the whole point of an oath.

  12. ST
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine had an otherwise-stellar application to adopt a child rejected on the following basis: he refused to lie on his application and therefore admitted to not being religious. He was told pointedly this was the reason for his application’s rejection. Shocking and sad.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Odd that they ask such questions on an adoption application & despicable they would not let an atheist adopt a child!

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Fortunately, not our experience. And if I’d had the slightest hint that it would have been, I will confess that I’d have lied without a moment’s hesitation.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        I thought that was well known. Perhaps not if you go into the process innocently, without reading some of the horror stories.

        There was a time when we considered adoption; having to play religious was a big disincentive.

  13. Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Sen. Christopher Shank of Maryland is a Christianist jerk. I know that personally because I know him personally. Unfortunately, he is representative of his constituents. Articles like this give him more votes.

  14. @eightyc
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink


    Can I declare my supreme being as a Pink Turtle?

  15. Ken Pidcock
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    . . . a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center this year showing that nearly half of Americans would disapprove if a family member married an atheist.

    Hmm, would I disapprove if a family member married an evangelical Christian?

    • PeacePecan
      Posted December 9, 2014 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      Should you?
      I think it depends on the reason(s) for the disapproval.
      Disapproval should never be based on ignorance or misinformation, a.k.a. insufficient evidence. (That would be bigotry.)
      Do the research, come to a (provisional) conclusion, and proceed accordingly.

  16. Randall. R. Besch
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    If we would only institute Sun Set provisons for laws over 50 years old they would all have to come up for vote, no vote they are null and void.

    Texas is one of them and I lever there. State murder capital of the nation and second only to the dictatorship of China.

    • Randall. R. Besch
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Live there.

    • Erp
      Posted December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately these are articles in state constitutions not regular laws.

      Personally I think the North Carolina one is the worst as the others were all passed before the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins which made explicit that these measures were null and void (and in particular the Maryland clause). North Carolina’s constitution was ratified in 1971.

  17. Posted December 8, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, all benighted Southern States who still want to fight the Civil war. And yes, Maryland was on the border, the site of the ‘mason dixon line’.


  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    Yeah, but Jews, African-Americans and women didn’t get to choose who they are, so it’s not their fault. Even gays, these days, are mostly accepted as being born that way.

    Atheists on the other hand, freely chose their nasty evil beliefs so they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, any more than communists or socialists should.


  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I doubt if any of those nations have anti-atheist statutes (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Not anti-atheist as such, but anti-lutheran:

    Due to the incomplete separation between state and church, one of the few remaining religious privileges (besides tax privileges and the separated church still being the “Swedish” church) is that the symbolic head of the state – the monarch – must be lutheran.

    Also that sect can still refuse to marry homosexuals, even though everyone else having marriage privileges can’t.*

    It used to be that he/she must be male as well (never mind earlier ruling queens like Kristina), but that was changed before the separation. That the sect would have female priests, and later female priests in high positions, was also a matter of contest. Until the last few years, and now their leader is female.

    * I happened to read a finnish newspaper [Finland have swedish language users for historicakl reasons], and their leader is now trying to make the lutheran church there accepting homosexual marriages.

    That has lead to a massive wave of dissenters leaving the sect, many thousands a day. (Apparently they can now use a secular web service to do the deed.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 9, 2014 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      I meant to write “marrying privileges”.

  20. Ben
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    For comparison here in the UK the Deputy Prime Minister is openly an Athiest and none of the political leaders use religious imagery for their christmas cards.

    • Posted December 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      The last three Prime Ministers of New Zealand have been atheists, and in 2011, about a third of the Members of Parliament were sworn in using non-religious affirmations.

  21. Posted December 9, 2014 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    In many places here in Britain it is necessary to pretend religious beliefs as a precursor to enrolling your child in a local school. Many people simply go along with such nonsense until such time as they can drop the facade and the child is established in the school. Nobody wants to address such issues, seemingly a mixture of apathy, fear (!) and the good old british unwillingness to rock the boat!

  22. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    The Texas law requires the existence of a distinct “Supreme Being”. That doesn’t conflict with there being a host of minor deities too – so the Greek pantheon should be OK – despite the repeated patricides, infanticides and so on. I’m not so sure about the Norse pantheon – wasn’t it ice condensing from Nilfheim from which Yggdrasil took root … it’s murky where, if anywhere, the Supreme Being is in that little crew. And some of the Eastern religions which are “turtles all the way down” might run foul of this too.
    (Yggdrasil, the second Linux distro I used, did however have a Supreme Being : “root” also known as “superuser”.)
    There are plenty of groups of people who could challenge this law. Whether any of them feel to lower themselves to running to seek public office on the other hand is a different question.

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Old IT joke. What’s the difference between a systems administrator (“root”) and God? God doesn’t think he’s a systems administrator.


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 10, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        SysAdmins on the other hand, don’t have delusions of omnipotence. The are omnipotent, and they know it.

  23. jr
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Several West European countries have requirements that their monarchs be a specific form of Christian. (The UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark I am sure of.)

    Ireland has a requirement that many officials swear an oath involing God.

  24. Posted December 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I write as an agnostic and as a libertarian. I do not write well, so I apologize if this isn’t to the taste of some.

    Freedom is coming to mean little more than the right to ask permission of our masters.

    The classical liberal understanding of ‘the separation of church and state’ means that as the area of politics expands, the area of private freedom – religious and otherwise – shrinks. Society and the State, to preserve humanities’ natural freedom, must remain in competition. Religious institutions play a major role in that. Otherwise we are left with deracinated individuals, isolated, in competition for power with the remaining institutions of power, Corporations (against small businesses) and the State (against the individual), which are evidently, natural allies. 

    It is useful to refer to the history of thought (and to the motivations of the many groups of people who emigrated to our continent) and to history generally to understand why Christians may feel threatened by ætheists who appear to resort to state power to suppress or create a social space for their beliefs that is almost satirical. The sources and composition of immigrants to this continent did change over time, but the fact is, that even if people did not fully commit themselves to a Christian perspective, they respected it publicly. And that meant a restriction of the role of the State.

    Politicians used to understand, without being told, that they didn’t necessarily have whatever it takes to fill our lives with meaning.

    Some people don’t mind a little constitutional sophistry in a good cause; and for the Left, which is what liberalism has become, today: Centralizing all power in the federal government is always a good cause. If Washington and Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton could come back, the first thing they’d notice would be that the federal government now routinely assumes thousands of powers never assigned to it – powers never granted, never delegated, never enumerated.

    These were the words they used, and it’s not a bad idea for us to learn their language. They would say that we no longer live under the Constitution they wrote. Since most Americans don’t know or care what the Constitution says, let alone what their ancestors thought it meant, the great liberal snow job has been very successful.In fact, politicians used to understand, without being told, that they didn’t necessarily have whatever it takes to fill our lives with meaning.

    It’s hard for Americans to see what difference one religion or another can make, because we have generally shared a single vague ‘civil religion,’ which the sociologist John Murray Cuddihy calls ‘the religion of civility.’ Our shared public faith has been a watered-down Protestantism in which manners tend to displace dogma. Still even that has fallen to the wayside in recent years. Now ‘men’ see it as ‘de rigueur’ to parade in public with their belts underscoring their underwear or even bare asses, and women increasingly do the same. Where is there social or civil support for those who object to these offensive daily displays of disrespect? Political power suppresses the dissent against it.

    EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A VICTIM. And the paradox is that victim status accrues precisely to those who can acquire enough clout to make others afraid of them. Victimhood has become one of the fruits of power. Anyone can be an underdog; the trick is to be a registered, pedigreed underdog. It is clear that these state laws are void, and in practical terms not applied, as long as the politician does not force the issue. In my opinion, if they were honest, he or she would admit that they do not declare himself or herself as agnostic or ætheist because he or she may not be elected, not because it is illegal.

    The most successful revolutions aren’t those that are celebrated with million-man parades, riots and pillaging, banners, drums and trumpets, cannons and fireworks. The really successful revolutions are those that occur quietly, unnoticed, uncommemorated. We don’t celebrate the day the United States Constitution was destroyed; it didn’t happen on a specific date, and most Americans still don’t realize it happened at all. We don’t say the Constitution has ceased to exist; we merely say that it’s a ‘living document.’ But it amounts to the same thing.

    Modern people seem to have more faith in the State than medieval people had in the Church – certainly the case in England and Europe. Though the State’s utopian promises have been kept by fraud at best, and war and mass murder at worst, its authority has hardly been impaired by experience – probably because it has taken charge of education and erased its subjects’ memory of its own crimes. But modern man not only still obeys the State (he has little choice) but still expects it to better the human condition. By now even ordinary people should talk about the State in the same mordant tones in which Jews talk about Hitler.

    How odd that Americans, and not just their presidents, have come to think of their Constitution as something separable from the government it’s supposed to constitute.  In theory, it should be as binding on rulers as the laws of physics are on engineers who design bridges; in practice, as with our former and current President, its axioms have become mere options. Of course engineers don’t have to take oaths to respect the law of gravity; reality gives them no choice.  Politics, as we see, makes all human laws optional for politicians.


I would also note: Why should a government that increasingly limits the sphere of freedom, privacy and choice in every other area show such consistent favor to sexual libertinism alone? Because the traditional code is designed to support the family as the basic unit of society, and the family, like religion and private property, is one of the foundations of liberty, society, civility, and resistance to monolithic state power. De-Christianizing America has been high on the Progressive agenda, and, thanks to the government (especially the federal courts), it has been a great success. Nor can we overlook the contribution of the entertainment industry, which now determines what passes for ‘culture.’ The main practical vehicle of de-Christianization has been the Sexual Revolution. (A few radicals have called for the abolition of the family, but most liberals have been more discreet, avoiding hostile rhetoric while quietly but constantly pursuing policies that result in lower birthrates and fatherless children and which also increases poverty and reliance on the State.)

    Without religion, the state faces no rival moral authority. Without property, freedom has no material basis, and everyone becomes dependent on the state for support. And without the family, the individual belongs almost wholly to the state, with no stable competing loyalty. It atomizes Society, and disempowers it. New research released by the Urban Institute in 2013 compared the social and economic status of African American families in 1965 to their condition today and paints a troubling picture about their current state — and, by extension, the long-term economic survival of the collective black community.

    Nearly 50 years after the release of the U.S. Department of Labor report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which was highly controversial and widely criticized at the time [In 1965 Liberal Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a report entitled: “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action.” The report later became known as “The Moynihan Report.”] By most accounts, it is probably the most poignant collection of statistical analysis, combined with social commentary in the last 45 years; not because of what it revealed; but because of how close it came to the truth.

    The New Urban Institute recently study found that the alarming statistics in the report back then “have only grown worse, not only for blacks, but for whites and Hispanics as well.”

    The original findings offered an unsparing look at the roots of black poverty issued during the height of the Civil Rights movement and at the intitiation of the War on Poverty. [Commonly referred to as the Moynihan Report, named for its author, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the policy memo at issue was a stunningly candid assessment of the troubled state of family life among lower‐class black Americans at mid‐twentieth century which Moynihan circulated – confidentially, he had hoped – within the Johnson Administration just as the War on Poverty was being launched and the major legislative battles of the civil rights revolution were being won.] It (unsurprisingly) called for more government action to improve the economic prospects of black families. [Moynihan was a sociologist and assistant secretary for policy planning and research at the Labor Department who eventually became a prominent U.S. senator.] 

    The United States is approaching a new
    crisis in race relations… In this new
    period the expectations of the Negro
    Americans will go beyond civil rights.
    Being Americans, they will now expect that
    in the near future equal opportunities for
    them as a group will produce roughly equal
    results,as compared with other groups.
    This is not going to happen. Nor will it
    happen for generations to come unless a
    new and special effort is made. There are
    two reasons…three centuries of sometimes
    unimaginable mistreatment have taken their
    toll on the Negro people. The harsh fact
    is that as a group, at the present time,
    in terms of ability to win out in the
    competitions of American life, they are
    not equal to most of those groups with
    which they will be competing … The
    fundamental problem… is that of family
    structure. The evidence — not final, but
    powerfully persuasive — is that the Negro
    family in the urban ghettos is
    crumbling…the fabric of conventional
    social relationships has all but
    disintegrated… So long as this situation
    persists, the cycle of poverty and
    disadvantage will continue to repeat

    His thesis that “a unity of purpose to the many activities of the Federal government in this area, directed to a new kind of national goal: the establishment of a stable Negro family structure” through the Welfare State and Statism has failed not only for Black people but has spread its deleterious effects throughout society.

    The new report, “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” outlines some of the very same challenges to the well-being of black families which were chronicled 40 years earlier, including acute and concentrated poverty in low-income black neighborhoods populated by underemployed and unemployed residents; crime; inequality in housing, employment, education, health care, and the criminal justice system; high rates of unmarried births – children raised in households headed by single women; and social welfare policies that undermine the role of black men. (The report also offers more context about the larger political, social, legal and economic forces that have contributed to the problems.)  The welfare state’s growth can be viewed as the transfer of the “dependency” function from families to state employees.

    In any society the Few rule the Many, but in most societies the ruling elite shares the general moral outlook of the majority of the population (even as they take advantage of privilege to live lives in contradiction to it) and there is no basic conflict between the rulers and the ruled. In today’s America, so alien to our ancestors, it is different. The Few not only hate the traditions of the Many; they have conducted a relentless propaganda campaign against those traditions, variously called ‘education,’ ‘eradicating prejudice,’ and ‘consciousness-raising.’

    To understand why many Americans who may hold no close affiliation with any religion may still support the diverse institutions which make “it” up in our country (and which was founded on freedom of choice, not state-institutionalized, and thus state-supported, belief) one might refer to the role religion played in the reasons why many people came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today’s critics are either uninformed about the actual historical and theological writings from the Reformation through the Revolution, or they disagree with the theological positions held by the Founding Fathers, theologians, and ministers of that era. This does not mean that there was no ‘Biblical basis’ for the American Revolution. In fact, the spiritual nature of America’s resistance was so clear even to the British that in the British Parliament:

    Sir Richard Sutton read a copy of a
    letter relative to the government of America from a [Crown-appointed] governor in America to the Board of Trade [in Great Britain] showing that…If you ask an American, “Who is his master?” He will tell you he has none – nor any governor but Jesus Christ [Hezekiah Niles, “Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America” (Baltimore: William Ogden Niles, 1822), p. 198.]

    Such spiritual declarations – confirming what was readily evident even to America’s opponents – certainly are not consistent with what critics inaccurately claim is the Unitarian, Deistic, and Secular Enlightenment rebellion basis of the American Revolution.
Any change in that perspective here was to my mind influenced by the 1848 Revolution in Europe and the subsequent injection of immigrants, especially German Marxists, who strongly influenced the politics of the North during the ante-bellum period. The role of the Unitarians in the Northeast cannot be overlooked in changing the Yankee perspective on the purpose of government, which led many toward the Progressives’ inclination to use state coercion to achieve their scared ends. Their predisposition to personal, social experimentation through private Utopian communities over time gave way to a crusade to use the force of law to impose their visions. Over time this has meant diminishing the role of the Church, broadly meant, in lieu of secular private organizations and charities run by corporate boards, dependent on tax-exempt status granted by an increasingly hostile State apparatus (re: the scandal of the IRS persecution of the anti-statist Tea Party seeking 501c3 status).

    I apologize if I have injected too many ideas for discussion in this response, but I just do not think that one should diminish the concerns of the “churched” about “aggressive” ætheism. They may see it aggressive Statism.

    • Rikki_Tikki_Taalik
      Posted December 9, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      I do not write well, so I apologize if this isn’t to the taste of some.

      Apparently not, as a cursory Google search shows that much of your screed is plagiarized copy-pasta of Joseph Sobran with a dose of David Barton at the end.

      None of which actually addresses the topic of the OP.

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Do not write such long posts again, please. Read the Roolz about length.

      • Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        I did reference Sovran and Moyhnihan and many others. Is that not at the base of my remarks?

      • Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        I did reference Sovran and Moyhnihan and many others. Is that not at the base of my remarks?

      • Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        I will comply on the article length henceforth. Did nit understand that. I put in reference marks on my quotes on my post which seem not to have attached. I apologize. I will reference everything asap.

  25. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I do not write well, so I apologize if this isn’t to the taste of some.

    Apparently not, as a cursory Google search shows that much of your screed is plagiarized copy-pasta of Joseph Sobran with a dose of David Barton at the end.

    None of which actually addresses the topic of the OP.

    • Rikki_Tikki_Taalik
      Posted December 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Apologies for the double post, I was responding to comment #24 and must have missed the reply button.

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes it is. Now…reply to the ideas.

  26. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    A Supreme Being is… exactly the same as a Regular Being with added sour cream.

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