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QUESTION

I saw the following claim in B3ta newsletter #574 (possibly NSFW), under "US Postal Service hates Atheists".

Awful, but then Atheists are not allowed to hold public office in six US states, including Texas.

Is it true that Atheists can't hold public office in Texas? I would have thought that separation of church and state would prevent any such rule being enacted.

{ asked by Tom77 }

ANSWER

From article 1, section 4 of the Texas Constitution, bolding mine:

Sec. 4. RELIGIOUS TESTS. 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.

From article VI of the US constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

The clause in the Texas consitution seems to violate the relevant clause in the US constitution.

There is also the Torcaso v. Watkins case before the Supreme Court. The Court decided:

There is, and can be, no dispute about the purpose or effect of the Maryland Declaration of Rights requirement before us - it sets up a religious test which was designed to and, if valid, does bar every person who refuses to declare a belief in God from holding a public "office of profit or trust" in Maryland. ... 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." 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.

Though this argument is not based on article VI of the constitution I cited, the court made no decision on whether such clauses in state constutitions would violate this article.

{ answered by Fabian }
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