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Unenforceable ban on atheists holding public office still on the books in 8 states

Unenforceable ban on atheists holding public office still on the books in 8 states

This is an old story but after reading an article about a study [PDF] suggesting there are many atheists who don’t want to admit they’re atheists, I remembered reading about how a country which prides itself as a world leader in personal freedom still has laws banning atheists from public service.

My memory was correct, and that country is the United States. Oyez, which publishes Supreme Court resources including audio of oral arguments, has a great page on the 1960 case which declared such laws unconstitutional (as if anyone should have needed the Supreme Court to tell them that…).

In Torcaso v. Watkins, the Court held unanimously that, quoting Oyez:

such a requirement places the state of Maryland firmly on the side of those people who believe in God and are willing to state their belief. With this requirement, Maryland effectively aids religions that profess a belief in God at the expense of any other form of belief or disbelief. The First Amendment expressly prohibits a state from taking this position. Although the candidate has the option of not pursuing public office rather than declaring a belief in God, the test is an unconstitutional encroachment on the freedom of religion.

So these laws aren’t enforceable, but the fact that they’re still on the books is an affront to the Constitution and should embarrass any lawmaker who claims to respect that Constitution.