August 01, 2012

Of Two Minds

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal inadvertently lead me to a bit of depressing news. Well, technically it was SMBC Theater, not the comic. But any way.

This video mentions state constitutions that ban atheist congress members. This seemed moderately ludicrous. My own atheism is complicated, and it's rare to meet someone who doesn't instantly start making assumptions about why I'm an atheist, but I'm hardly one to say that atheists are under attack or facing the same kind of discrimination other minorities are treated to. There is a certain amount of resistance to atheists, sure. But it's mostly annoying assumptions about your (lack of) beliefs.

Which is why I found the idea of multiple states banning atheists in their government so weird. I decided to check it out. Good ol' Wikipedia giving me little more than a link to the relevant state constitutions. This meant I had to peruse the contents myself.

So here they are, a countdown of sorts of the states that outlaw atheism:

South Carolina: Article 27, Section 4 states: "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this constitution."

Arkansas:  Article 2, Section 26 states: "No religious test shall ever be required of any person as a qualification to vote or hold office; nor shall any person be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his[sic] religious belief; but nothing herein shall be construed to dispense with oaths or affirmations."

While 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."

Mississippi: Article 3, Section 18 states: "No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required; and no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect or mode of  worship; but the free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of  this state. "

While Article 14, Section 265 states: "No person who denies the existence of a supreme being shall hold any office in this state."

Tennessee: Article 1, Section 4 states: "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."

While Article 9, Section 2 states: "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."

The following two are the strangest of the bunch. The first one up there, South Carolina, never made it unconstitutional to have a test of religious faith for their civil leadership. Technically they never contravened their own constitution. The bill of rights for  Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee all contained language that specifically outlawed having a test of religious faith. Each of these states also had, buried in the misc. section at the end of their constitution, a statute that said you had to have some form of belief in a supernatural power in order to be eligible for public office. They have each clearly made a portion of their own constitution unconstitutional. It's almost zen.

But these two really take the cake. First up,

Texas: 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."

In other words, you don’t have to pass a religious test to attain public office, so long as you have a religion.

Maryland: 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 therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

Nothing shall prohibit or require the making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God or a Supreme Being in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school, institution, or place.

Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion"

And 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."

Texas, and especially Maryland, have managed to hold two completely contradictory ideas at once - That no religious test be required to hold office, and that you must be religious to hold office. This seems totally nonsensical to me. At least South Carolina isn't contradictory, even if they're flat out bigoted. But I can't comprehend Texas and Maryland. Maybe because I haven't attained full buddha yet. Here we have these two states who managed, in one statement, to hold that religion is of no importance, and that it is of utmost importance. Maryland has achieved full zen.

Good job, assholes.


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