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Op-Ed: Atheists banned from holding public office in 7 states

By Brett Wilkins     Dec 23, 2012 in World
Whenever Fox News blowhards like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity or other reactionary hotheads spout off about the so-called "War on Christmas" being mercilessly waged by the ne'er-do-well forces of secularism, or worse, atheism, I always have to laugh.
Have these folks taken a look around them? You can't swing a dead elf without hitting some sort of Christmas decoration or symbolism, much of it of a religious nature. For example, I was in a large public park down in San Diego last week and beheld a sprawling Nativity scene and, moments later, a massive Christmas tree. Similar Christmas symbols can be seen in every town and city across America, including in the Obama White House with its 54 Christmas trees.
And just in case anyone forgets that this nation was, as the Christmas warriors over at Fox are constantly pointing out, founded upon Judeo-Christian values, there's God on our money, God in the Pledge of Allegiance, the "God Bless America" song at practically every sporting event (and you can get arrested and abused for not showing sufficient submission when it's played), more "God Bless America" from the lips of every president after every speech, National Prayer Breakfasts, Christian Crusaders leading our troops and waging holy war against infidels, swearing on Bibles in court, godly infiltration of our everyday parlance in everything from sneezes (God bless you) to warnings (God help you) to curses (God damn you) to exasperation (Oh God) to orgasm (oh GOD!). There's even the Ten Commandments posted prominently in the United States Supreme Court, and they sure as hell (more religion-speak!) ought to know better, what with that whole separation of church and state thing and the Constitution and all...
Speaking of constitutions, if you want to witness a war against believers, seven states' constitutions explicitly bar those who believe there is no God from holding public office. That's right, atheists and free-thinkers are banned from elected office in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. In Arkansas, atheists are also barred from fulfilling their civic duties as court witnesses, and in Tennessee denying the existence of heaven and hell is also ground for disqualification from any government job. Really:
Arkansas (Article 19, Section 1): "No person that 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 245): "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state."
North Carolina (Article 6, Section 8): "The following persons shall be disqualified from office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."
South Carolina (Article 17, Section 4): "No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution."
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."
Texas (Article 1, Section 4): "No religious tests 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."
Now, just in case it's been a while since your last civics class, here's what Article VI of the United States Constitution, the "No Religious Test" clause, has to say about such matters:
"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Try telling that down in North Carolina. You see, these state prohibitions against atheists holding public office are more than just quaint legal anachronisms that nobody's gotten around to repealing yet. Just ask Cecil Bothwell. He was elected to the Asheville City Council in 2009, but even in that progressive city there were those who said "not so fast." It turns out that Mr. Bothwell is an atheist, and irate Christians attempted to block him from taking office.
"I'm not saying that Cecil Bothwell is not a good man, but if he's an atheist, he's not eligible to serve in public office, according to the state constitution," former Asheville NAACP President H.K. Edgerton told the Asheville Citizen-Times. Apparently civil rights are just fine for North Carolina's long-oppressed black citizens, but not for its equally scorned atheists. One wonders if Mr. Edgerton's support for the state's ban on interracial marriage, which was only lifted in 1971, was as ardent as his backing of its codified discrimination against free-thinkers. But I digress...
There is no "War on Christmas." Efforts to curb displays of overtly religious symbols and imagery are not attacks on Christians or their ability to worship as they please, but merely attempts to comply with the fundamental American principle of separation of church and state. Banning atheists, and even people who deny the existence of heaven and hell, from holding public office, on the other hand, is a blatantly unconstitutional (and, admittedly, unenforceable) exercise in hostile discrimination. The real war is not being waged on Christmas, but rather on atheists and other free-thinkers.
As I leave you and wish you Happy Holidays-- and if you're Christian, then a very Merry Christmas-- consider this: Americans surveyed in a recent Gallup poll about the 2012 election were asked,
"If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be _________, would you vote for that person?"
Here's what they answered:
Black- 96%
Woman- 95%
Catholic- 94%
Hispanic- 92%
Jewish- 91%
Mormon- 80%
Gay or Lesbian- 68%
Muslim- 58%
Atheist- 54%
"War on Christmas" my unelectable ass...
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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