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Religious discrimination in state constitutions

Constitutions of Massachusetts, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,
Tennessee & Texas.

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Religious restrictions in state constitutions (Cont'd):

bulletMassachusetts' Declaration of Rights: 
bullet Article III:
"As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily."

Comments:
The constitution allowed individual municipal bodies to tax everyone (Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Protestants, non-believers, Agnostics, Atheists, etc.) in order to maintain Protestant clergy. Fortunately, Article III is no longer in effect.
bulletPart 1 Article III:
"...every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."

Comments: All Christian denominations were considered of equal status, and were to be equally protected under the law. Of course, there was (and remains) no consensus on exactly who qualifies to be considered a Christian. Non-Christian groups appear to have been left out in the cold.

bullet North Carolina's Constitution, Article 6 Sec. 8:
"Disqualifications of office. The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God...."

Comments: "Almighty God" apparently refers to the Judeo-Christian God -- the Trinity. This Section would appear to have disqualifyied anyone who is a strong Atheist, or who followed a religion other than Judaism and Christianity from holding office in the State.

bullet Pennsylvania a Declaration of Rights: 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."

Comments: This seems to imply that a person who denied the existence of all Gods or who denied the existence of heaven (or equivalent) or who denied the existence of hell (or equivalent) had no protection from being held ineligible to hold office or be a member of the PA civil service because of their religious beliefs.

bullet South Carolina's Constitution, Article 4 Section 2:
"Person denying existence of Supreme Being not to hold office. No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution." 

Comments: "The Supreme Being" apparently refers specifically to the Judeo-Christian God. This Section would appear to have disqualified anyone who is not a Christian or Jew from holding office in the State.

bullet Tennessee's Bill of Rights: Article 9:
bullet Section 4: "That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state."
bullet Section 2. "No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state."

Comments:  Article 9 was obviously written by incompetents. Section 4 says that there was to be no religious test. Section 2 created a religious test. Nobody who denied the existence of God or heaven or hell was able to hold office. Presumably, anyone believing in a God other than the God as conceived by the authors of Article 9 could not hold office either.

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bullet Texas' Bill of Rights Section 4:
"RELIGIOUS TESTS: 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.

Comments: As noted above in the case of Pennsylvania, non-theists had no protection from being excluded from holding office civil servant in Texas.

Why these religious restrictions are no longer valid:

These phrases are historical relics, left over from earlier times, and no longer enforceable.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a post-Civil War reconstruction amendment. It requires individual states to provide equal protection under the law to all people within their jurisdictions. This requirement supersedes any applicable statutory laws and sections in state constitutions. It thus nullifies the effect of the above clauses. This was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961.

Unfortunately, the clauses retain great symbolic value. Decades or centuries later, they lend legitimacy to the expression of hatred and mistrust towards some religious minorities.

Threatened lawsuit in North Carolina against Atheist:

Cecil Bothwell, 59, was elected a Councilman in Asheville City, NC on election day in early 2009-DEC. He is a registered Democrat, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, is the author of the city's best-selling guide book, is opposed to the death penalty, and favors conserving water, saving trees in the city core, limiting the height of downtown buildings, and reforming government. On DEC-07, he took the oath of office, using an alternative oath that does not involve a Bible or an oath to God. That is because Bothwell is a Atheist: He has said: "The question of whether or not God exists is not particularly interesting to me and it?s certainly not relevant to public office." 

Some conservatives object to having an Atheist in public office. In fact, a public opinion survey in 2007 showed that only 59% of American voters would knowingly vote for an otherwise acceptable candidate for President if he or she was an Atheist. They are the most heavily discriminated against category studied. More Americans would be more inclined to vote for a qualified candidate who is a homosexual, a person over 72 years of age, a person who has been married three times, or a Mormon that would vote for an Atheist.

One political foe is, H.K. Edgerton. He is a former NAACP local president, and founder of Southern Heritage 411 -- an organization that promotes the interests of black southerners. He is threatening to file a lawsuit to challenge Bothwell?s status as councilman. He said:

"My father was a Baptist minister. I?m a Christian man. I have problems with people who don?t believe in God."

David Morgan, editor of the Asheville Tribune, a conservative weekly newspaper said that city officials should not have administered the oath. The 1868 constitution of North Carolina disqualifies anyone from holding public office "... who shall deny the being of Almighty God." The clause was left unchanged when the state amended its constitution in 1971. Morgan said that he is tired of seeing the constitution "trashed."

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "U.S. State constitutions and web sites," (except for Alabama) at: http://www.constitution.org/
  2. "Google Web Directory: State constitutions," at: http://directory.google.com/
  3. "Arkansas Constitution," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "Constitution of Maryland," at: http://www.msa.md.gov/
  5. Alysia Patterson, "Lawsuit threatened over atheist councilman," Associated Press, 2009-DEC-13, at: http://www.heraldnet.com/

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2009-DEC-15
Editor: B.A. Robinson.

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