The Washington Post

There are states where you technically can’t hold public office if you’re an atheist

Eight state constitutions include restrictions on people who don’t believe in a supreme being. In Arkansas, denying the existence of God means you can’t hold civil office or testify in court, while in Tennessee there are also guidelines about belief in the hereafter.

States with restrictions on atheists holding office


However, the Supreme Court ruled in a 1961 case that a Maryland man appointed as a notary public didn’t have to declare his belief in a supreme being to hold office, arguing it violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Since then, these restrictions haven’t been enforced, said Dave Muscato, a spokesman for American Atheists.

Still, candidates for office who are openly atheist face discrimination at the polls. Muscato said a belief that atheists aren’t moral or trustworthy contributes to voters’ reluctance to say they’d vote for them. A 2014 Pew poll found 53 percent of Americans think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral, and a 2012 Gallup poll found 43 percent of voters would not vote for a candidate who was atheist.

Here are the states and what their constitutions say about belief in a supreme being:

Arkansas

Article 19, section 1: “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.”

Maryland

Article 37: “That no 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; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.”

Mississippi

Article 14, section 265: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.”

North Carolina

Article VI, section 8: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

Pennsylvania

Article 1, section 4: “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.”

Note: Pennsylvania differs from the other states in that it says believers cannot be disqualified from holding office for his or her religious sentiments, but that is not extended to atheists.

South Carolina

Article XVII, section 4: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”

Tennessee

Article IX, section 2: “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishment, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”

Note: Ministers are also barred from holding office, because they “ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature,” according to article IX, section 1.

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.”

Hunter Schwarz covers the intersection of politics and pop culture for the Washington Post

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