Monday, April 16, 2007

Constitutional Changes

In writing yesterday’s blog about the atheist activists’ passive acceptance of many forms of discrimination, some thoughts came together that I would like to comment on.

I have known atheists for quite some time to use the fact that anti-atheist bigotry appears in many state constitutions as proof of social bigotry against atheists.

What I have not been able to figure out is why atheists in those states have not done anything to change this situation.

Here is a list of state constitutional provisions that denigrate atheists (taken from “State Constitutions that Discriminate against Atheists”)

Arkansas State Constitution, Article 19 Section 1 ("Miscellaneous Provisions") 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's Declaration of Rights, Article 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 therefore either in this world or in the world to come.

Massachusetts' State Constitution, Article 3: Any 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.

Mississippi State Constitution. Article 14 ("General Provisions"), Section 265 No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

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

Pennsylvania's State Constitution, 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.

South Carolina's State Constitution, Article 4 Section 2: No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being; ... Note: If you continue reading you will find that (in Section 8) the Lieutenant Governor must also meet the same qualifications as the Governor.

Tennessee's State Constitution, 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.

Texas' State Constitution, 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.

So, my question is, why are there not movements in these states to get these provisions changed? Put the issue on the ballot. Force the citizens to look their bigotry square in the eye and decide if they want to endorse it (and prove their moral backwardness in the eyes of the world) or renounce it.

I am well aware of the fact that, in the face of the U.S. Constitution, these claims are unenforcable. Yet, they still serve as a constant reminder - an affirmation of the idea that atheists are unfit for public office. The fact that it has no legal effect does not argue that it has no practical effect. Besides, it is still a symbol. It is in these Constitutions because a segment of the population whishes it were true. It is time to get them to either admit their bigotry or change the law.

It would be hard for anything but good publicity to come from these measures. Besides, it would get the atheists and those who value fairness and honesty to the polls.

Now, I could be wrong. There may be organizations actively pursuing these changes that I simply do not know about. If anybody knows of such an organization, please let me know by sending me their contact information so that others here can get involved. Of particular use would be information on how to send donations if one wants to make a contribution


Vincent said...

What a way to get out of jury duty!

Richard said...

That was exactly my thought. I can't wait for the next summons for duty!

vjack said...

Why aren't more of us involved in such a fight? Probably for many of the same reasons most of us aren't as openly atheist as we might like - there are very real safety concerns (not to mention fears over losing one's job, etc.). I would certainly be willing to support such efforts, but I'm not in a position where I can be the person in the "Atheist Challenges Mississippi Constitution" article. Maybe after retirement.

Martin said...

I would gladly give money to such a cause. "Winning" wouldn't be nearly as important as forcing the issue of bigotry out into the public's eye. Force the anti-atheist bigots to come out into the sunshine.

Chris Wellons said...

Sorry for posting over a year later, but here it goes.

The two articles in the Maryland constitution have been struck down by two court cases. The first, which struct down article 37, was Torcaso v Watkins, where Roy Torcaso, an atheist, was being denied as a Notary Public.

The second, which struck article 36, was when Buddhist Lidge Schowgurow's trial was declared a mistrial because Buddhist's could not serve on the jury.

These articles remain in the constitution even though they are void because they would be very expensive to remove, and, the sad part, you would still have a hard time getting a majority of the Maryland population willing to have them removed. Maybe in another 40 or 50 years it will be possible.