State Constitutions And Religious Bigotry

Eight states retain provisions in their constitutions limiting public office to people who profess belief in God. Thanks to the 1961 Supreme Court ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, these restrictions can no longer be enforced and are considered dead letters.

Arkansas: “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.” (Article IXX, Section 1)

Maryland: “[N]o 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….” (Article XXXVII)

Mississippi: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.” (Article XIV, Section 265) Ironically, Article III, Section 18 of the state’s constitution declares, “No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required.”

North Carolina: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office. First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” (Article VI, Section 8)

Pennsylvania: “No person who acknowledges the being of a 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 or profit under this Commonwealth.” (Article I, Section 4)

South Carolina: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution. (Article XVII, Section 4)

Tennessee: “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.” (Article IX, Section 2)

Texas: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” (Article I, Section 4)

 At the federal level, the story is quite different. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires that officeholders swear an oath or give an affirmation to support that document then adds “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”