Non-believers need not apply. According to AlterNet, in seven U.S. states, if you don’t recognize the existence of a supreme being, you are banned from holding public office. This is for real. Here are the statutes that officially disqualify atheists from exercising their civil right to run for office, or to be appointed:
The Arkansas State Constitution was drawn up in 1874. Article 19, Section 1 states “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.”
[It's bad enough that if you are an unbeliever in Arkansas, you could, under the state constitution, forfeit a basic democratic right. But if you’re not willing to say, “so help me God,” you can’t even testify at a trial.]
Maryland, article 37, says, “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.”
Texas’ State Constitution, Article 1, 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 anyone be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
[Let me see if I understand this one: In Maryland and Texas, following either of the two religions most reviled by religious bigots—Mormonism and Islam—can’t keep you from holding office, but not believing can. I guess those religions are much less awful than no religion at all.]
Mississippi, Article M, Section 265 : “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.”
Pennsylvania, Article I, 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.”
[So, in Pennsylvania, you’re also out of luck if you don’t accept the existence of a heaven or a hell.]
South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4 “No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”
[However, it’s probably okay in South Carolina if you “deny the existence” of climate change, racial prejudice or religious bigotry.]
Tennessee, Article 9, 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.”
[“Imagine there’s no heaven…” and then imagine the door slamming on your chance to hold office in Tennessee.]
Of course, these statutes are essentially unenforceable, for obvious reasons. But the fact that we don’t currently have thought police, or mind-reading software, or an Inquisition, doesn’t give me much comfort. In a time when radical, fundamentalist religious zealotry is on the rise, it’s downright scary to read these constitutional statutes that disenfranchise people whose beliefs aren’t religiously pure–or even just religious.
And sure, you can argue that these statutes are relics of the past—just quaint laws, like the City of Boston’s Ordinance 16-15.3, which makes it illegal to drive a horse-drawn carriage through the snow or ice with fewer than three bells attached
But, wait: A lot of old issues that we thought were settled—things like the right to privacy, the right to collectively bargain, and the right to vote—are under fire by corporate interests, Bible-thumpers and anti-woman warriors. Is it that hard to imagine some sanctimonious, right-wing state legislator in one of the seven previously mentioned states standing up, Bible in one hand, state constitution in the other, railing against the rights of the godless in his or her state? That’s something that this non-believer believes is possible.