April 2020 Church & State Magazine | Featured

Eight state constitutions contain language barring non-believers from holding public office. Thanks to a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision, these provisions can’t be enforced, but their continued existence is a reminder of a common bias from days past.

Here is what each constitution says:

Arkansas, Article XIX, Section 1:

No person who denies the being of God shall hold any office in the civil departments of the 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. (Note: A separate provision in Article 36 bars atheists from testifying in court.)

Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

North Carolina, Article VI, Section 8:

The following persons shall be disqualified for office. First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

Pennsylvania, Article I, Section 4:

No person who acknowledges the being of 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 under this Commonwealth.

South Carolina, Article XVII, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee, Article IX, 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 I, Section 4:

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.