The First Amendment to the United States Constitution enjoins the government from interfering with any religion or church, but does not legislate against a religion or church interfering with the government. The first amendment to the constitution states that “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” One of the reasons people migrated to the New World in the first place was for religious freedom, and when our constitution was written, it promised religious freedom for everyone. Unfortunately, the constitution does not promise freedom from religion.
It is interesting to note that in the U.S. the trend has been toward religiosity increasingly intervening into government activity. The Constitution does not mention God but in 1892 the Supreme Court stated “This is a Christian nation”. 1 In 1952, at the height of the Communist fervor, the Supreme Court was more inclusive: “we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being”2. Congress declared “In God We Trust” as the national motto in 1956 and two years earlier had inserted “one nation under God” into the pledge of allegiance. 3 Religion has encroached ever since.
Eight states in this country, Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas will not allow an otherwise eligible candidate to hold any office or public trust, if the said candidate does not believe in a God or Superior Being. To get around the first amendment, many states include in their constitutions belief in God or Supreme Being as a qualification for office. Two prime examples are Tennessee and Texas. In Tennessee, 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.” In the Texas state constitution, Article 1 Section 14 reads “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 statements, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” 4
The Supreme Court Case Torcaso v. Watkins in 1961 ruled that states are not allowed to impose a religious test for a public office, in accordance with the First Amendment. In this case, Roy Torcaso was appointed as a notary by the governor of Maryland, but was denied from office, because he refused to declare his belief in God. Maryland state constitution 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 the declaration of belief in the existence of God…”5 Maryland argued before the Supreme Court “The petitioner is not compelled to believe or disbelieve, under threat of punishment or other compulsion. True, unless he makes the declaration of belief he cannot hold public office in Maryland, but he is not compelled to hold office.”6 The Supreme Court replied “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’7 Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” 8 This said, the Supreme Court ruled the Maryland law unconstitutional, and Torcaso was allowed to become a notary. In eighteenth-century England when Catholics were excluded from government the argument could have been presented that they were not “compelled to hold office”.
Torcaso v. Maryland seems to invalidate the Constitutional provision against non believers. Maryland was the only one of the eight states to be taken to the United States Supreme Court. South Carolina, however, did have a case that made...
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